GPs complain at lack of vaccine warning


Family doctors say they were "totally unprepared" to deal with the flood of telephone calls since the Department of Health's announcement about polio vaccine on Tuesday.

The Minister, Mr Martin, had said a polio vaccine given to thousands of children in 1998 contained serum from a donor later diagnosed with vCJD.

As the donor's plasma was mixed with that from 63,000 others, however, Mr Martin said the risk of infection was "almost certainly zero".

Dr Ben O'Shea, a GP in Newbridge, Co Kildare, and chairman of communications for the Irish College of General Practitioners, said the nurse in his practice was "fielding calls all morning" from anxious parents, and "pulling out records" to check the batch number of the vaccine administered in each case.

He said the first he heard of the issue was in the media rather than from the health authorities. "It is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs," he said. "There was no warning about this. It was landed on our lap."

A Department spokeswoman said arrangements had been made, through the CEO of each health board, to distribute information packs to all GPs. However, several GPs The Irish Times contacted said they did not get the packs until yesterday afternoon - and said they should have been informed before the media.

Dr Michael Coughlan, who runs a general practice in Galway city, said he was "very annoyed" that he was "informed first by the airwaves" on Tuesday night.

"We've had our fair share of calls. My secretary was on the phones all morning from understandably worried parents," he said yesterday. "I got a pretty comprehensive document from the health board but forewarned is forearmed.

"News like this does raise the panic alarm but I've been trying to reassure people that the risk of anyone contracting vCJD is as near to zero as we can say."

Dr Noel O'Regan in Cork city said there had been "quite a reaction", with his secretary "on two phones all morning". The calls, while understandable, were "time-consuming". Other GPs had very few calls on the vaccine. Dr Joseph Sorensen in Youghal, Co Cork, said he had had none, while Dr Liam Lynch, the IMO president who practises in west Dublin, said he did not get as many calls about it as he expected.

The three health boards in the east said their freephone helpline (1800 454 500) had been "extremely busy". It was receiving up to 120 calls an hour and some of the calls were lasting up to 15 minutes.

The other freephone lines are: Midland: 1800 463646; Mid- Western: 1800 202255; North Eastern: 1800 342424; North Western: 1800 200710; Southern: 1800 742000; South Eastern: 1800 300654; Western: 1800 201220.