A one-year-old baby died of meningitis B, a disease against which vaccines are currently unavailable, this newspaper is informed.

Sources said the baby died last month after contracting the disease that affects the lining around the brain and spinal cord.

The Central Procurement and Supplies Unit (CPSU) was informed that the local agent of the meningitis B vaccine had a stock of vaccines available in a number of local pharmacies, a Health Ministry spokeswoman said.

The representatives of international pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Malta were in liaison with their suppliers to hasten further delivery and the CPSU was in liaison with both companies to monitor the situation, the spokeswoman added.

The ministry was also asked about the baby’s death but no reference was made to it in its reply late yesterday evening.

The government does not supply the vaccine against the specific strain that affected the infant, which can, however, be purchased from private hospitals and pharmacies. Paediatricians said private hospitals had purchased the vaccine from pharmacies abroad but these too had since run out.

According to one paediatrician, the unavailability of such a vaccine in light of the baby’s death was very worrying, particularly to parents. Another paediatrician, however, warned against the matter getting out of hand, saying the issue was not as worrying as parents were making it out to be.

Babies who were not vaccinated were not in any immediate danger, he said.

A spokeswoman for the local representative of GSK confirmed that the vaccine was not available and it would not be for some time.

She said no fixed date had yet been given as to when a supply would be made available to the local market. According to the spokeswoman, the vaccine was in high demand all over the world and as GSK had agreements with a number of governments abroad, supplies would be shipped to these countries first. At present, demand exceeded the quantity manufactured.

“It’s important to understand that, in these cases, we need to stock enough for boosters so before sufficient doses are available, this will not be made available,” the GSK spokeswoman said.

According to the Maltese Paediatric Association, about 10 cases of meningitis have been reported among children.

The signs of meningitis are fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, dislike of bright light and drowsiness.

Infants and younger children may not always show such symptoms but, instead, feed poorly or become very lethargic.

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