The petition was started in September 2015 by Lee Booth, a parent whose daughter was too old to receive the vaccine. It received a huge boost in recent weeks after several parents shared heartbreaking experiences of losing their children to meningitis — including Jenny Burdett, who posted pictures on social media of her 2-year-old daughter Faye dying from the infection.
The petition called for the jab Bexsero to be offered to all children, not just newborn babies. It has broken records as the petition with the most signatures on the U.K. Government website.
However the Government responded to say it would not be cost effective for Bexsero to be given to all children and that its priority was to vaccinate the children considered to be most at risk from meningitis B.
It also pointed out that national immunisation programmes are introduced on the advice of independent expert body the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), and that in this particular case JCVI "recommended that MenB immunisation should be routinely offered to the group of children at the highest risk — infants at two months of age with a further dose at four months and a booster at 12 months, provided that the vaccine could be procured at a cost-effective price."
The Government's statement said: "With this programme, our priority is to protect those children most at risk of Men B, in line with JCVI's recommendation. The NHS budget is a finite resource. It is therefore essential that JCVI's recommendations are underpinned by evidence of cost-effectiveness. Offering the vaccine outside of JCVI's advice would not be cost effective, and would not therefore represent a good use of NHS resources which should be used to benefit the health and care of the most people possible.
"When any new immunisation programme is introduced, there has to be a cut-off date to determine eligibility. While this is extremely difficult for parents whose children aren't eligible, there is no other way of establishing new programmes to target those at highest risk without introducing inequalities."
The Department of Health said the U.K. was proud to be "leading the world in offering children protection" from MenB by introducing a national, publicly funded immunisation programme for babies.
"There are many bacterial, viral and other causes of meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and surrounding tissues) and septicaemia (blood poisoning)," it added. "Successful vaccination programmes have already reduced the risk of these serious diseases. Current rates of group B meningococcal disease are low. In the early 2000s there were more than 1,600 cases in England, compared to around 400 cases in 2014."
A spokesman from charity Meningitis Now told The Telegraph that, while they understood the need for further data to be gathered on the duration of protection offered by Bexsero and whether vaccinating teenagers would lead to herd immunity, they had concerns that further research recommended by JCVI into a MenB programme for adolescents had not yet started.
A debate on the petition will be scheduled in the House of Commons but, before a date, is set the Petitions Committee has asked for "the chance to hear from some of the families who have been affected by meningitis B as well as from relevant medical experts."
"We are now two years on since the JCVI recommended this study and, whilst we are pleased to read in the Government statement that there is preparatory research that has been commissioned and is under way, we still have no indication of when the full study will commence or be completed by," the Meningitis Now spokesman said. "We therefore continue to call for the under-fives to be protected while we wait for the data to be gathered and because of the length of time it is taking to progress the study. We keenly await information about the process of MPs speaking to families and health experts prior to a debate in Parliament. We will ensure that we continue to be the voice for people affected by this devastating disease."
For more information on meningitis visit Meningitis Now.