University researchers say that there needs to be a realistic approach to the cost of a meningitis vaccination programme.

In March 2014, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI),  the  expert group that advises UK governments on vaccination, recommended that Bexsero be offered to babies at two, four and 12 months of age as long as the Department of Health can obtain it at a cost-effective price. Bexsero is the first vaccine to broadly protect against meningitis B but the research now suggests the Government would need to negotiate a considerable reduction in the list price in order to provide the same value for money as other programmes in the NHS. Researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted a modelling study to estimate the potential impact of a vaccine on cases of meningitis and septicaemia and the cost-effectiveness of immunisation programmes.

The model took into account factors including how many cases could be averted, the cost of care, litigation costs, the quality of life for those left with disabilities and the impact on families. Dr Hannah Christensen,  who led the research at the University of Bristol, said: “Our study suggests vaccinating babies, who are most at risk of meningococcal disease, would have the greatest immediate effect on reducing cases. “After taking into account comments raised by stakeholders following the interim JCVI decision, our research shows that offering the vaccine to infants could be cost-effective, but given the current evidence the vaccine price would need to be quite low to achieve this.”

The model estimates that 1,447 cases of all meningococcal disease and 59 deaths occur annually in the absence of vaccination against group B meningococcal disease. Cases would be cut by 26% in the first five years if the recommended vaccination programme at two four and 12 months is followed. This could be cost-effective with the vaccine priced at a lower amount per dose, say the team. Maximum reduction will be achieved by combining infant vaccination with an adolescent vaccination at 13-years-old. This could see annual cases reduced by 49% in 10 years and 60% in 20 years.