National immunisation database would be 'hugely beneficial' to vaccination regime


A Dublin GP has told a conference on immunisation of the difficulties sourcing complete vaccination records for some members of the immigrant community.

Dr Terry Coll works in a practice serving Phibsboro and Glasnevin in Dublin, where up to 50 per cent of births are to parents who are not Irish-born.

Babies in this community often return home to visit relatives, with the result that they can miss part of their vaccination programme, she told delegates at the National Immunisation Conference at Croke Park yesterday.

"It can be quite difficult trying to find out what they have had. And if they are new arrivals, the vaccination programme in their home country can differ, so you have to try and ensure they have got all the vaccines here that they need.

"We ask for a written record, although it is not always available," she said.

Vaccination regimes being disrupted by parents moving house or country is not unique to the immigrant community and Dr Coll said the issue also concerns Irish-born parents who move to a new area with a new GP.

"For all these instances, a national immunisation database would be hugely beneficial as not all practices are computerised and not all parents have paper-based records."

She said hand-held vaccination records that can be kept by parents, similar to the Plunkett Book used in New Zealand, would assist doctors in tracking a child's immunisation record.

Dr Coll told The Irish Times that family doctors have to be aware of the different vaccination regimes and timescales in other countries.

She pointed to Australaisan countries, where Hepatitis B is a vaccination standard but which is not included in the Irish programme.

"Often patients will start a vaccination programme before coming back to Ireland. You know they are probably going back to their homeland on holiday at some stage so you also have to address the issue of what vaccinations they require for that country."

Dr Coll said difficulties could also arise where English is not well understood by the parents. In these cases parents were encouraged to bring a friend or relative with good English, she said.

"If you are trying to explain to someone what you are going to vaccinate their child against and the possible small side-effects, it is hard enough even if they speak English to take in all of that information.

"As parents they naturally are concerned. So, we advise them to bring someone," she said.

Despite these issues, Dr Coll said non-national parents are "excellent" in terms of compliance with the vaccine programme.

"We don't have to do a lot of work convincing on the benefits of immunisation. Our experience is that they want their children vaccinated," she said.

Dr Brenda Corcoran, a consultant in public health medicine with the HSE's National Immunisation Office said a detailed plan for a national immunisation database had been complied and a decision on this was pending. She said implementation of the current plan would require about two years.

Dr Corcoran is also due to attend a World Health Organisation meeting next week at which a range of issues including the possibility of a translatable, standardised hand-held immunisation record are due to be discussed.