The online petition calling for the meningitis B vaccine to be offered on the NHS to children under 11 today became the most signed in parliamentary history.
It had been supported by more than 579,000 people, overtaking those who called for US presedential hopeful Donald Trump to be barred from the UK, which prompted a debate in Parliament last month.
However the public clamour for action following the death last Sunday of two-year-old Faye Burdett from meningitis B led today to caution being expressed by key figures.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons health committee and a former GP, suggested the Government’s advisory committee on vaccines should review its cost-effectiveness but said that children under one were statistically at higher risk from meningitis.
She tweeted: “Public opinion clearly matters but there would be risks if size of petition became the main driver for vaccination policy rather than evidence.
“Many new treatments are exorbitantly expensive, so it matters to consider what else NHS might not be able to afford as result.”
The charities Meningitis Now and the Meningitis Research Foundation hailed the “overwhelming” response to the petition and said it helped to raise awareness of a killer disease.
But they backed away from supporting an extension of the vaccine to adolescents until the effectiveness of the Bexsero vaccine, introduced in the NHS for two-month-old babies last September, was fully understood.
Public Health England believes Bexsero is likely to be 95 per cent effective against 88 per cent of meningitis B strains. Meningitis Now said it would like a “catch-up” programme for under fives.
The latest Public Health England data shows a 10 per cent increases in meningitis B cases between last July and September, up from 59 to 65 cases, compared to the same three month period the previous year.
Across 2014/15, the “MenB” strain was last year responsible for 80 per cent of meningitis cases in infants and 86 per cent in toddlers, and caused 25 of the 56 meningitis deaths.
There has been a huge fall in meningitis infections since 2000, dropping from 2,595 cases to 724 cases in 2014/15, mainly as a result of the introduction of the meningitis C vaccine in 1999. This is given to babies at three and 12 months. Teenagers, sixth-formers and “fresher” students have been offered a combined MenACWY vaccine since last summer.
However there was a 14 per cent year on year increase in all meningitis cases in 2014/15, up from 636 to 724. Within this total, the number of MenB cases fell from 424 in 2013/14 to 418.