Parents of tragic Leo Wells vow to keep up meningitis vaccination battle
Lana and Karl Wells endured every parent's worst nightmare in 2010 when their adorable son Leo, aged nearly two-and-a-half, died just a day after contracting the deadly meningitis virus.
Since 2013, when the new Meningitis B vaccine was licensed, they've been campaigning for an extension of the immunisation policy to children of all ages and will continue to do so in Leo's memory.
They have the backing of a doctor who immunised their other three children at a private clinic at great cost, who said he and every doctor in Northern Ireland is calling for a blanket vaccine scheme.
From today, the Meningitis B vaccine will offered to babies at two, four and 12 months old as part of routine immunisations.
Tests suggest the vaccine will protect against around 90% of the Men B strains seen in the UK, saving lives from an illness that can kill one in 10 victims or leave them with severe brain damage.
Lana yesterday welcomed the news but admitted it's tinged with great sadness.
"It's bittersweet; if it had been available when Leo was a baby things might have been very different," she said.
"It is a long overdue step, considering that this strain causes 80% of cases and kills one in 10 children who catch it."
She and her husband Karl recently shelled out nearly £600 to immunise their other children, aged five, 15 and 17 - at £195 a shot. Along with pre-school and early primary school children, who form the greatest at risk group, teenagers are the next group most at risk of contracting the lethal virus.
The Wells family could afford to pay to protect their children but Lana is aware that not everyone can.
"And you can't do it for one child without doing it for the others and you can't do it at different times," she said.
They have vowed to continue their fight to ensure all of Northern Ireland's children have the same protection.
"Until then, our children will still be at risk from this vicious killer and families like ours will continue to lose sons and daughters.
"It is not an experience that anyone should have to undergo when a vaccine is available."
The doctor who has been immunising children of all ages at a private health clinic since 2013 said it should be free to all.
Dr Roger Brown of the Kingsbridge Private Hospital in Belfast said: "Ideally, it would be available free of charge to every child in Northern Ireland."
A new vaccine to prevent meningitis will be offered to babies as part of the routine NHS childhood vaccination programme. The vaccine will be given to babies aged two months, a second dose at four months and a booster at 12 months. There will also be a temporary catch-up programme for babies who are due their three and four-month shots this month.