To vaccinate or not to vaccinate


PARENTS will face two major changes this year in the immunisation of new babies. Instead of visiting the local health clinic for vaccinations, all babies will attend their GPs. The schedule of immunisations has also been changed.

These changes result from an agreement between the Department of Health and the Irish Medical Organisation which have jointly developed a new national scheme for the delivery of primary childhood immunisation aimed at raising the level of uptake to 95 per cent.

New mothers will be asked by their health visitors to name a GP of their choice. The health hoard will then remind the mother when it is time to bring the baby to the GP for immunisation.

Until last Christmas, babies were being vaccinated at two months, three months, four months and six months of age, with an additional visit at 15 months of age for the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.

From now on, babies will be immunised at two, four and six months, reducing the number of visits during their first year from four to three. Children will continue to receive the MMR at 15 months.

At two months, four months and six months, each baby will receive two injections and an oral polio vaccine. The two injections will consist of the HIB vaccine plus a choice of either the two in one or the three in one.

The HIB vaccine protects against one form of bacterial meningitis, Haemophilus influenzae, a potentially deadly type which accounted for one third of all cases of bacterial meningitis before the vaccine was introduced.

The two in one vaccine protects against diphtheria and tetanus, while the three in one protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Parents can choose the two in one instead of the three in one if they are worried about the tiny risk of brain damage which they fear that the whooping cough vaccine may carry.

In addition to these traditional vaccinations, all 12 to 18 month old children should also have the new chickenpox vaccine, the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta said last week. The varicella zoster virus which causes chickenpox can lie dormant in the body for decades, arising later as shingles, a debilitating condition which may affect people with compromised immune systems. They also recommended vaccination for 11 and 12 year olds who had never had chickenpox. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices also says a series of three Hepatitis B vaccine shots should he given to 11 and 12 year olds who were not vaccinated when they were younger.

Within the next two months, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland's National Immunisation Committee will report its verdict on which immunisations Irish children should have. Many parents and doctors alike will he watching to see whether the committee recommends the whooping cough vaccine or not.