Article by Guy Bell: Desperate parents in Billericay are bombarding GPs with emails and phone calls in a bid to secure vaccinations against meningitis for their children.

The deadly disease affected two toddlers in the town and a private GP has had to take down its waiting list for the injection.

Russell and Ridley, in King George's Court, has a waiting list of more than 200 children to start the course of the sought after vaccine.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by GP Maddi Ridley"]We are having a nightmare with phones and emails at the moment. People are very panicky; you can hear it in their voices. They are desperate for their child to be checked out. We knew at the end of January we wouldn't be able to do any new courses for Meningitis B. It is highly unlikely the vaccines will be given to all children under 11 because it is just so expensive. On our website we had a waiting list right from the word go.[/quote]

Dr Ridley, along with colleague Katharine Russell, took down their waiting list yesterday (Tuesday, January 23) after being inundated with phone calls from worried parents.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Dr Ridley"]There are a lot of anxious parents from all over Essex. Even working within the NHS there are so many parents with their children coming in with queries. The trouble is the symptoms could present itself in a non-specific way. It is appropriate and understandable that people take their children to the doctor as soon as there are any symptoms and we don't want to discourage people. A month ago or so when the vaccine was available people didn't have the awareness and the high profile stories have definitely created a bit of a panic. The media has brought it to the front of peoples' minds whereas they might have considered cost.[/quote]

NHS vaccination courses are still available for children and the current surge in demand has not affected the health service.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by spokesperson for Public Health England"]We are aware that GSK has supply constraints on the Bexsero vaccine for the private market. However, this does not impact the NHS programme and the MenB vaccination programme will continue to be delivered to eligible infants as part of the NHS childhood immunisation schedule. If we become aware of issues affecting the supply for the NHS immunisation programme, we will inform healthcare professionals and parents. The vaccine will help protect children against this devastating disease which can cause meningitis (an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) which are serious and potentially fatal illnesses.[/quote]

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Professor Andrew Pollard, JCVI Chair"]Immunisation programmes are targeted at groups at highest risk from a particular disease. In the UK, infants in the first year of life have the highest incidence of Meningococcal B disease, with cases peaking at five months and remaining high in the second half of the first year of life. For this reason, babies are offered the MenB vaccine with the other routine vaccinations at two months, four months and 12 months of age. By 2017, all children aged under two years of age will have been offered the MenB vaccine.[/quote]

Babies and young children under five years of age most at risk of developing bacterial meningitis, what are the symptoms and warning signs you should look out for?

Babies and young children may:

  • have a high fever, with cold hands and feet
  • vomit and refuse to feed
  • feel agitated and not want to be picked up
  • become drowsy, floppy and unresponsive
  • grunt or breathe rapidly
  • have an unusual high-pitched or moaning cry
  • have pale, blotchy skin, and a red rash that doesn't fade when a glass is rolled over it (see below)
  • have a tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle)
  • have a stiff neck and dislike bright lights
  • have convulsions or seizures

The above symptoms can appear in any order, and some may not appear at all.

What about in older children, teenagers and adults?

The symptoms of meningitis can include:

  • a fever, with cold hands and feet
  • vomiting
  • drowsiness and difficulty waking up
  • confusion and irritability
  • severe muscle pain
  • pale, blotchy skin, and a distinctive rash (although not everyone will have this)
  • a severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • convulsion or seizures

Again, these symptoms can appear in any order, and not everyone will get all of them.

Are there any other tips?

  • Don't wait for a rash to develop. If someone is unwell and has symptoms of meningitis, seek medical help immediately
  • If you press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin and the rash doesn't fade, it's a sign of meningococcal septicaemia

Article by Guy Bell, Brentwood Gazette

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