The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the UK Government on immunisation, has said the only vaccine available to protect against meningitis B should not be introduced in the country.

JCVI came to the conclusion that the vaccine, developed by Novartis, is not cost-effective, so should not be used by the UK National Health Service (NHS).

Although there are vaccines against other forms of the fatal illness, this injection is the only one that is thought to protect against meningitis B.

The jab is thought to be effective against 73% of the different strains of meningitis.

No country has adopted the vaccine, meaning there is no evidence on how it would affect the number of meningitis cases.

Speaking to the BBC, Department of Health director of immunisation Prof David Salisbury said: “This is a very difficult situation where we have a new vaccine against meningitis B but we lack important evidence.

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“We need to know how well it will protect, how long it will protect and if it will stop the bacteria from spreading from person to person. We need to work with the scientific community and the manufacturer to find ways to resolve these uncertainties so that we can come to a clear answer.”

“The UK’s child mortality rates are amongst the highest in Europe. We simply cannot afford to let this licensed vaccine hang in limbo any longer.”

An estimated 1,870 people contract meningitis B each year and one in ten dies. Mostly children under five contract the bacterial infection, which leads to inflammations of the brain and spinal cord.

One in four people who survive the infection is left with side effects, such as brain damage or limb loss.

Meningitis Research Foundation chief executive Chris Head said: “Today’s news is a severe blow for everyone campaigning against this dreadful disease. We know every delay costs lives and leaves many more with life-long disabilities.

“The UK’s child mortality rates are amongst the highest in Europe. We simply cannot afford to let this licensed vaccine hang in limbo any longer.”

The UK has adopted vaccines in the past for other types of meningitis. In 1999 a vaccine for meningitis C was introduced, resulting in a 1,000 cases a year being reduced to only a handful.

Photo: Some 1,870 people contract meningitis B each year, with one in ten dying. Image: courtesy of Marvin 101.