Harris fails to offer catch-up vaccine for meningitis B
Almost 30,000 people sign online petition for vaccination for all children and teens
Minister for Health Simon Harris said he would take advice only from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
The Minister for Health Simon Harris has declined to announce a catch-up vaccination programme for the meningitis B strain, despite pressure from parents and doctors.
Mr Harris said politicians “don’t make decisions in relation to who we do and don’t vaccinate and what we do and don’t vaccinate for”.
A vaccination against meningitis B has been offered by the HSE to infants up to 12 months since October 2016. Children born before this have not been immunised against the B strain but will have received the C vaccine.
Almost 30,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Simon Harris to implement a catch-up vaccination programme for the meningitis B strain for “all children and teens” in light of the recent cases.
The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) has also called for a catch-up programme and said it had been inundated with calls from concerned parents.
Mr Harris said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) provides information to the Minister for Health of the day on what vaccinations should be introduced and who they should be introduced for.
“I and the Government have implemented in full the advice of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and I will be taking advice from nobody else in relation to vaccinations other than that committee,” he told reporters on Monday.
The NIAC has not recommended a catch-up programme for children born before October 1st, 2016 while the Department of Health has said the majority of cases of meningitis B are seen in children less than one year of age.
Eleven cases of meningococcal meningitis have been notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre since the last week of December. Three people have died from meningitis though the HSE has said none of those could be attributed to meningitis B.
The HSE’s Director of Public Health, Dr John Cuddihy, said the uptake of vaccinations “could be a little better”.
Dr Cuddihy said of the 11 cases notified, “all the strains have been evenly represented”, but would not give the specific strains “for confidentiality reasons”. He said there hadn’t been a meningitis “outbreak” but there had been six more cases compared with the same period last year.
“So for parents the key message is to, particularly the 12 and 13-month vaccinations, just to make sure that they bring their children for those, just to complete the schedule,” he said.
Mr Harris also said he wanted to reassure patients that medicines would continue to be supplied “even in the case of a no-deal Brexit”.
“This country is doing everything it possibly can to be prepared for a no-deal Brexit whilst at the same time hoping that that’s not where we arrive at and hoping that the British House of Commons gives careful consideration to this matter tomorrow,” he said.
Separately, the Minister for Health said there needs to be clarity from the nurses unions how their claims “can be addressed within the context of the public sector agreement”.
Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) are scheduled to stage a series of strikes in the weeks ahead. Talks between the unions, HSE and Department of Health are set to take place on Tuesday.
“I have huge time and respect for the INMO and indeed for the work of our nurses and midwives right up and down the length and breadth of the country but I’m also very conscious of the fact that we have a public service pay agreement in place – that is a collective agreement public servants have signed up to and that we can’t have side pay agreements in relation to that,” Mr Harris said.
Mr Harris said strike action was “not good for patients, not good for midwives and, in my view, is unwarranted”.
“There is a way forward, we can find a way forward but that involves willing partners and involves everybody working together and working within the confines of the public sector pay agreement,” he added.