Since my daughter fell ill I have met and corresponded with many survivors of meningitis B, quite astonishing people who, after losing limbs, have gone on to lead full and extraordinary lives. But I have also met people whose children did not survive. When Jeremy Hunt tells us that he is in negotiations with the drug company to find a price that is acceptable before the NHS can roll out the vaccine nationally (it is, of course, available privately for £75), I think three things.*girds loins*
The first is this, and it is obviously emotional. If you have sat in a room where a doctor explains to you the odds on the outcomes for your baby, the worst being death, the next amputation of all limbs, then the loss of “just toes and fingers”, then brain damage with profound hearing loss being possibly the best hope, then yes, you think: if we have a way to stop this, we should move heaven and earth to do so.Sure. OK. We’ll shell out for whatever drug is needed, no cost too much.
Meanwhile, that money needs to come from somewhere, so do you want to pay higher taxes, or shall we cut something else to afford it?
How about abortions or tattoo removal? Gender reassignment surgery?
Second, and maybe not so emotional, is that this is actually the market in all its gloriously free form. It is a choice. The market can charge what it likes for vaccinations against meningitis, as it will do for Ebola or malaria if these are developed. Cancer drugs, retrovirals, the new anti-rheumotoids: they are all expensive. There is something utterly immoral about the market holding not just the NHS to ransom, but the sick and the suffering around the globe. These untramelled market forces must be challenged.Yes, as Tim Worstall points out, let’s demand that a company that spent millions on research and development of the drug in question has to charge a ‘fair’ price for it. That’ll help get new drugs and vaccines
Third, the anti-vaxxers currently gearing up in the US are not only anti-science but selfishly antisocial. We vaccinate our children not just to save our own precious kids but to rid entire communities of disease. Meningitis is an odd one, as many of us carry the bacteria anyway and we are not quite sure how it travels. But it is the illness, quite rightly, that parents most fear."Children's bodies are inviolate and no adult may make free with them! But I have the right to demand you stuff chemicals in your child's body to make mine safe!"