Babies are at risk over vaccination stances, HSE warns

Irish parents urged to avail of measles jab and educate themselves on meningitis

Irish babies are at risk of contracting measles, with a high chance of complications including death, if parents continue to show complacency towards vaccines, the HSE has warned.

Health professionals have called on Irish parents to ensure their children avail of the two doses of the MMR vaccine, so all children are fully protected from the disease.

Europe has seen a resurgence of the disease in recent years, with outbreaks recorded in Italy, France, Germany, Poland and Belgium.

In the past six months, Romania has reported more than 4,000 cases of the disease, with 18 related deaths.


Measles is spread through coughing, sneezing, and by close contact with an infected individual.

Dr Brenda Corcoran, head of the HSE National Immunisation Office, warned that with today's travel patterns no person or country is beyond the reach of the virus and that no one should be complacent about vaccination.

"While uptake in Ireland has remained steady at around 92 per cent, we need to increase uptake rates to the target of 95 per cent to make sure that measles does not circulate here.

“This is important for everybody, but is particularly vital to protect young babies as they cannot receive the MMR vaccine until they are 12-months-old, so they are vulnerable to complications, including death, if they are exposed to measles infection.”

Parents have also been told to take extra care to educate themselves on the symptoms of meningitis and not wait for the appearance of a rash on their child’s skin before contacting the doctor.

Ireland rugby captain Rory Best and former England rugby player Matt Dawson were among those at an event for GSK's Tackle Meningitis campaign in Dublin on Monday.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the rare but potentially fatal disease.

Dawson joined the campaign after his three-year-old son Sami contracted meningitis and was critically ill for two weeks afterwards.

Sami made a full recovery, but his father felt he needed to spread his knowledge of the disease to other parents.

“We’re not asking anyone to go and do a load of homework and study or give money, this is just simply . . . read up on a couple of little notes that will stick in your mind and if they crop up with your children you’re armed to deal with it,” said Dawson.

“It’s that type of disease where 15 minutes can make a huge difference to the rest of a child’s life.

“The rash is maybe the main physical sign, but other symptoms like cold hands and feet, nausea, a fever . . . all together the alarm bells start to ring.”

Lack of knowledge

Research carried out by GSK showed that 44 per cent of 700 Irish parents surveyed wrongly believed a distinctive rash was the first symptom of meningitis, while many of them lacked knowledge about the age ranges that are most at risk of contracting the disease.

While vaccination prevents the B and C strains of meningitis, which form the majority of cases in Ireland, there is no single vaccine that protects people from all strains.

The narrow time window for diagnosis of the disease means it is essential for parents, carers and health professionals to be aware of all of its signs and symptoms.

Dr Philip Cruz, from GSK, said parents should keep an eye on babies who become irritable or fussy, have a cry that becomes high-pitched and who are not feeding well.

He said the rash did not appear in all cases and tended to only emerge in the later stages of the disease.

“The symptoms might seem like a flu, where you have headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, some stomach pain or some joint pains.

“That’s why one of the key challenges is having in the back of your mind it could be meningitis.”

Most cases of meningitis in Ireland occur in babies under 12-months-old and children, but anyone can be infected.

Asked to comment on the decision by parents in some Western countries not to vaccinate their children for fear of later health complications, Dr Cruz said that “prevention is always better than cure.

“All these vaccines undergo a very stringent research-and-development process, where safety is of the upmost priority.

“Before a vaccine is trusted by your health authorities, it has undergone the upmost scrutiny of safety and besides, and once it’s implemented we also keep close watch on it.”

Rory Best said parents should trust their instincts when it comes to meningitis and have an awareness of the red-flag symptoms of the disease.

“We’re not saying that every time they have a runny nose to run to your GP, but nobody knows your kids better than you do,” he said.

“Scan through the early signs just so you know. The overriding factor is always the health and safety of your kids.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast