Meningitis B vaccine and the cost of life

The BBC reports today (here) that agreement has been reached between the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (the one-time ‘Hulture’ Secretary, as James Naughtie nearly described him) and the suppliers of the Meningitis B vaccine. No exact date has been set for the introduction of the vaccine, though it will be added to the schedule of vaccinations (available here).

The introduction of a vaccine against the B-strain has been delayed by a year while the Health Secretary and the suppliers discussed the price.

The Daily Mail reported on the human cost of the delay in introduction of vaccination nine months ago, here.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the coverings of the brain, the meninges; it may be caused my many differing germs, and by other causes (much more here). It typically presents with headache, fever, photophobia (an aversion to light), neck stiffness (called meningism) and a petechial rash. This rash is pathognomonic of infection with Neisseria meningitidis. This rash does not blanch, that is when pressed upon by a glass it does not loose its colour. There are a number of strains of N meningitidis for which vaccines are already available; the B-strain is one of the most dangerous, and can lead to the loss of limbs, persisting brain damage, and it can be fatal.

A suspected case of meningitis is a medical emergency of the utmost importance and urgency. Treatment should be begun even before the diagnosis is clearly established.

Suzanne Moore wrote an op-ed in the Guardian a few days ago, describing her own experience, and fulminating against the market; until the announcement today, I had intended to do the same. You can read her article here. And let me entirely reassure you that the extreme rapidity of the treatment her daughter had, and the extreme measures that had to be undertaken are entirely representative; for this is a disease that, in a matter of a few hours can claim the life of a previously healthy infant or toddler.

Public health measures such as a supply of clean drinking water and proper sanitation, and vaccination programmes are called, entirely justifiably, an ‘epidemiological revolution’. Yes, it costs money to supply clean water, to build proper sewers, to develop vaccines, to immunise the population. But these costs fade into triviality compared to the savings in human life, human disability and emotional distress.

What then is the price of a life? How much should be paid to save a single life? You might think such a calculation is something only the most hard-hearted bean-counting Scrooge of an actuary could countenance, though it is often used as the basis for, say, road improvements. Such a figure might be £100,000, easily the cost of Suzanne Moore’s daughter’s treatment.

And for those children who recover but are very severely damaged what are the lifetime costs of support, special services, carers, respite? A course of vaccine might be £220 and would prevent this disaster. A good financial investment, one worth the upfront cost?

You might well think so.

  • siphonophorest


  • Muiris

    Any screening or publicly funded vaccination has to be cost effective as siphonophorest suggests. If resources/money is spent in one area, it cannot be spent elsewhere. It’s not rocket science.

    As for Big Pharma, yes, they are entirely ‘bottom line’ focussed, and will try to charge whatever they can get away with for anything. (In RoI high drug prices have been used as a draw for foreign investment just like low corporation tax, I think.)
    Hence the somewhat prolonged negotiations.

    I would love to believe that there was a 3 day cure for opiate addiction. Having worked in the area, I’d have to be sceptical however. If it sounds too good to be true, ………….

  • Korhomme

    I have donned my asbestos flame-proof anti-troll, anti-anti-vaxxers suit 🙂 See next post.

  • Korhomme

    I have read the linked posts you refer to. They are anecdotal and non-scientific in their attitudes to ‘Big Pharma’.

    Now, I consider anecdotes not to be data, but potentially useful pointers to what may be happening, things that should be properly investigated.

    There are certainly things that are concerning in ‘big Pharma’; glyphosate was ‘Agent Orange’ in the Vietnam defoliation programs, was it not. And yes, there have been questions asked about its safety, even in those days.

    But you are missing the ‘big picture’ in relation to Big Pharma. You paint it as a global conspiracy. That is not entirely without truth. But it obscures what is really going on, and it’s no different from what’s going on with many other Big Firms.

    And that is simply this; the neo-liberalisation theories of Thatcherism and Reaganism have emphasised the supremacy of the market, and the need for privatisation and deregulation.

    And this has lead to the rise of ‘managerialism’, where companies are managed for the benefit of the managers and the temporary shareholders. These people are in it for the short term, to extract the maximum profit from the company in the short term. Any considerations of long-term growth are irrelevant, which is why growth of 2-3% in the ‘golden years’ has been reduced to 1% today.

    As for ‘anti-vaxxers’, they are no more than conspiracy-theory believers whose views are deluded, a non-rational ‘belief’ which denies the understanding of science, of risk and of ‘chance’, of the benefits of vaccination, the idealistic dreams of ‘libertarians’.

  • Korhomme

    I have read the article you reference. There are almost no reference for the statements it makes. I do not ordinarily read articles that do not quote sources for the opinions they make.

    I’m well aware of Zyklon-B and the involvement of IG Farben. I’m aware, for example that General Motors maintained covert links with its German subsidiary during WW2.

    I’m aware that the Nurembrug War Trials were, in many respects, ‘show trials’. And that some of the defences used, such as the ‘I was only following orders’ one are untenable today—see the work of Stanley Milgram and others.

    I’m well aware of Vioxx.

    Even Wikipedia has nothing good to say about Morgellons; yes, I had heard about it beforehand.

    Your initial post says, ‘Sorry to put the opposing view but things have to said unfortunately.’

    What part of vaccinating children against a potentially fatal illness do you not agree with?