Parents flying kids to England for £200 meningitis vaccine
Northern Ireland children not eligible for a NHS vaccine programme to fight a deadly strain of meningitis are heading off to England over the Easter weekend to avail of a newly-sourced batch of the vaccine.
At least 10 children from here have been registered to receive the meningitis B vaccine at a private practice near Slough amid shortages of the Bexsero vaccine.
There is currently a waiting list in Northern Ireland for those able to shell out the £200 it costs to buy the drug privately.
A vaccine to protect against meningitis B became available on the NHS last September for babies aged over two months, followed by a second dose at four months and a booster at 12 months.
But parents wishing to have older children inoculated must pay privately to vaccinate against an illness that kills one in 10 victims and can cause brain damage.
A campaign for a broader childhood immunisation programme reached its height last month after Faye Burdett (2) died on Valentine's Day, just hours after her distraught parents Jenny and Neil released images of their ill daughter on the internet.
An existing petition on the issue was flooded with more than 800,000 signatories, thought to be the biggest petition to Westminster in history, ensuring a debate in the House of Commons.
Bexsero's manufacturer Glaxosmithkline said supplies were short due to "unexpected global demand" but it hoped to remedy the situation by the summer.
The manager of the Lanes practice near Heathrow Airport, Helen Probert, said she had been informed that stocks of the drug had run out in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
She said the clinic was unable to order the drug around the turn of the year but had just sourced 3,500 doses from Norway. The practice has been inundated.
"They are literally coming over from Northern Ireland for the day, on the plane this weekend, just for the dose and going back home straight away," she said.
Mark Regan, CEO of Kingsbridge Private Hospital, where the vaccine has been offered privately, said it had received calls from around 500 concerned parents.
"We have a limited supply and we've had to add names to a waiting list, notifying them as and when we take delivery."
Yesterday, a spokesperson for Northern Ireland's department of health confirmed sufficient supplies of the vaccine existed for the NHS programme, but added: "The Department has no influence over the supply of the Men B vaccine for private use."