THE BLOG
25/03/2015 10:25 GMT | Updated 25/05/2015 06:59 BST

Time Is Running Out for a Decision on Life-saving Vaccine

As this zombie parliament staggers towards the exit, we must ask why ministers have failed to introduce the vaccine that we know could eradicate Meningitis B. Negotiations over the price that ministers are prepared to pay for this life saving vaccine have been underway since last summer, after the vaccine was approved, yet they still have not reached an agreement.

Meningitis B has for decades been a leading cause of death and disability in young children, feared by parents and doctors alike because of the speed with which it strikes. The disease can kill a healthy child within hours of the first symptoms.

Last Saturday marked one year since the Men B vaccine was recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), subject to a cost-effective price being agreed. In the time that has passed since this the vaccine was licensed, experts warn over 1000 cases of Meningitis B have been diagnosed and there are likely to have been around 100 deaths and many more children left with life changing consequences.

The negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy with parents left in the dark about when we might get a decision. I have written to Ministers and repeatedly asked questions in Parliament, requesting an update on progress but have been told that the Department is "continuing" negotiations. I've asked if there is an end date sight but I've never been answered.

The Health Secretary finally broke his silence at the weekend and said there had been a "substantial" change in price since a new company took over from the one that originally developed the vaccine, adding that he feels "very encouraged." But the fear is now he has left it too late. Without an announcement before parliament dissolves on Monday, a decision on this life saving vaccine will be left in limbo. This will be the first time a Government has not introduced a vaccine recommended by the JCVI.

The failure of ministers to act is not because of a lack of time or a lack of evidence. It is because of a lack of political resolve. Meanwhile, children and adults continue to suffer life-changing consequences of Men B infection or lose their lives. Failing to conclude a deal would mean many more months of anguish for parents of babies under the age of one; condemning some to a death sentence and leaving many more with the prospect of living with the devastating effects of the disease. Time lost is lives lost. If this parliament concludes without action on the Men B Vaccine then ministers should hang their heads in shame.

Luciana Berger is the Shadow Minister for Public Health and Labour a Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree