Meningitis C vaccine 'is not linked to deaths'
BY NIGEL HAWKES, HEALTH EDITOR http://www.the-times.co.uk/
WORRIED parents were reassured yesterday that the meningitis C vaccine is safe, after a report that it was linked to the deaths of 11 children.
"Nobody has died as a result of vaccinations and so far the vaccine has probably saved about 150 lives," the Department of Health said yesterday, responding to a Sunday newspaper report that the deaths had happened since the inoculation programme was introduced in November.
Officials also denied any cover-up over the deaths, insisting that they were "extremely confident" about the safety of the vaccine. A spokesman said: "I am not surprised the deaths were not made public because they have been investigated and any links were categorically ruled out.
"If someone has ever had the vaccine and they die, their deaths are reported as a matter of course. That does not mean there is a link. "This kind of thing frightens parents - parents who might have already made appointments for their children to be vaccinated. Then there is the threat of meningitis C if they cancel the appointment."
A report in The Observer claimed that there had been 16,000 adverse reactions to the vaccine reported to the Medicines Control Agency as well as 11 deaths since the vaccination campaign began.
But the Department of Health pointed out that of the 11 who died, two had preexisting heart conditions, two died of meningitis B which could under no circumstances be connected to a vaccine against meningitis C, one had a convulsion ten days after vaccination and the other six were babies who died from cot deaths. All had been investigated and no link with the vaccine found.
Since the programme began, about 14 million babies, children and adults have been immunised. Department of Health figures show a 77 per cent reduction in the number of confirmed cases in the 15 to 17 age group last winter and a 73 per cent reduction for babies.
Until the campaign started, there were about 1,530 cases of meningitis C every year - 40 per cent of all meningitis cases - and about 150 deaths. Britain was the first country to introduce the vaccine.
In such a large campaign, some adverse reactions are to be expected and there are bound to be occasions in which deaths occur after a vaccination, with no direct connection. The vaccine cannot cause meningitis C because it does not contain the virus.
Nevertheless, the Liam Fox, the Shadow Health Secretary, called for an inquiry. "If information has been withheld it will lead to suspicions that officials have not been entirely frank," he told The Observer. "If 11 deaths have not been made public, the Government risks the public losing faith in the system."
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said he that backed the Department of Health in urging parents to continue having their children vaccinated.
He said: "Early findings suggest that it has saved lives and these reports of potential adverse reactions from GPs are to be expected from such a widespread campaign."