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Meningitis drug deal 'very soon'

A deal to introduce a potentially life-saving meningitis drug could be reached "very soon", the Health Secretary has said.

Controversy erupted after it emerged that the Bexsero MenB vaccine was still not available to children despite being recommended by health advisers a year ago.

Discussions between the department and the drug company over the price of the vaccine began in August last year, following the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

It said the vaccine should be offered to children at two, four and 12 months.

At the time Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor John Watson hoped a "cost effective price is reached rapidly" but warned that NHS funds must be used "as effectively as possible".

Last week health chiefs announced a plan to launch a large-scale immunisation programme to protect teenagers against the deadly meningitis W disease after a steep rise in cases.

But, in welcoming the announcement, Sue Davie, of charity Meningitis Now, called for movement on the meningitis B vaccine, saying it could protect children from the W strain also.

"We also note the JCVI's recognition that the Men B vaccine is likely to provide direct protection to infants against the Men W strain, but remain deeply concerned that the introduction of the Men B vaccine continues to be held up in negotiations, some eight months after they began.

"Surely now we will see the negotiations between the Government and vaccine producer being concluded and the Men B vaccine introduced to save lives now and protect babies not only against MenB but MenW as well".

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC he was hopeful that a deal with manufacturer GSK could be reached "very soon" but stressed that the vaccine had to be introduced at the "right price".

Mr Hunt said there had been a "substantial" change in price since the company which initially developed the vaccine had been taken over by GSK, adding that he feels "very encouraged".

Mr Hunt said: "We do need them to be reasonable, but we certainly want to do everything we can to make sure that we get this vaccine out there."

Medics called for a swift resolution.

Dr Ian Maconichie, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told the BBC: " One year on, we appeal that a decision is made imminently, so should the vaccine be introduced, it can begin to save children's lives and spare some from severe preventable disability as soon as possible."

Consultant paediatrician Dr Matthew Snape said the delay appeared to be down to negotiations between the Department of Health and the manufacturer of the vaccine to establish a "cost effective price".

He told the BBC: "As a paediatrician (it is) very frustrating. For every parent of a child that suffered this disease since that recommendation it must be infuriating."

A spokeswoman for GSK said: "We are committed to reaching a rapid conclusion to negotiations so that the meningitis B vaccine can be made available to babies in the UK.

"GSK has moved quickly following the recent acquisition of the vaccines business from Novartis, aiming to minimise further delays to infants getting access to the vaccine.

"We are confident our proposal, which is significantly below the list price, offers fair value for the NHS.

"We will continue to work with the UK Government to ensure they have the information they need to make a decision."

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