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Meningitis C Vaccine (Emergency Donation)

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2016

It is the normal practice when a Government Department proposes to make a gift of a value exceeding £300,000, for the Department concerned to present to the House of Commons a minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from making the gift until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.

A minute has today been laid before Parliament setting out details of the Department of Health’s gift of approximately 157,000 doses of the Meningitis C (MenC) vaccine to the World Health Organisation to meet a request for urgent assistance to manage MenC outbreaks in the Niger and Mali. This gift has a market value of around £3.5 million pounds including VAT. Due to commercial sensitivities it is not possible to confirm the contract price.

MenC is a very serious illness which can result in death or severe consequences including brain damage, hearing and sight loss and there is a global shortage of affordable MenC vaccine. This gift will provide a valuable contribution to saving lives and reducing morbidity in infants and children in the Niger and Mali.

The risk of MenC in children in the UK is very low because of the success of the vaccination programme so far. When MenC was first introduced in 1999, around 12 million children and young adults were vaccinated as part of a catch-up programme. Because of this catch-up programme, circulation of MenC in the population declined rapidly and this low circulation will be maintained by vaccinating teenagers—the age group most likely to carry meningococcal bacteria in their noses or their throats.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that children no longer need the infant dose of MenC currently given at three months of age. This is because there is very good herd protection for MenC, resulting from low rates of MenC carriage amongst teenagers and young adults. This means the risk of cases of invasive MenC disease in infants in the UK is extremely low. Also, the new MenB vaccination programme using the vaccine Bexsero® is expected to provide some degree of protection against invasive MenC disease. This change in our vaccination schedule will take effect from 1 July 2016. Children will still be offered two doses of a MenC vaccine. They will be offered a dose at 12 months of age (combined with Hib) and a dose at 14 years of age (currently combined with MenA, W, and Y). The latter dose will help to sustain the current low levels of carriage among young adults in the UK.

Due to the urgent nature of this request it has not been possible to provide Parliament with 14 sitting days’ notice of this gift. The Treasury has approved the proposal and a copy of the minute is attached.

Attachments can be viewed online at : http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-03-23/HCWS647/.

[HCWS647]