Vaccination: Deaths at children’s hospital preventable
Five children died from illnesses that could have been avoided through immunisation
Research by medics based at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin and Trinity College Dublin, examined 39 admissions to the paediatric intensive care unit between 2011 and 2015. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Five children died at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, Dublin, from illnesses that could have been prevented by immunisation, according to a new study of case files spanning a four-year period.
The research, which was carried out by medics based at the children’s hospital and Trinity College Dublin, examined 39 admissions to the paediatric intensive care unit between 2011 and 2015.
The admissions that formed part of the study consisted of children affected by a range of illnesses that can be prevented by immunisation.
Some of the children had not been vaccinated when they could have been, while others were too young to be immunised. However, had there been full immunisation in the community, known as herd immunity, the younger babies would not have been exposed to the diseases, according to lead author of the report, Dr Suzanne Crowe.
Nine children were admitted with streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterial infection that can lead to illnesses such as pneumonia and meningitis. Death occurred in four of these cases.
One child died from pertussis or “whooping cough” during the reference period. The child was just two weeks old – four weeks short of the age at which the relevant vaccine is administered under the State-funded immunisation programme.
Other diseases included varicella (chicken pox), haemophilus influenza, and meningococcus B – a bacterial infection that can cause septicaemia and meningitis.
Of the 34 children who survived to be discharged, 19 had serious complications including skin loss requiring grafting, limb and digit loss, seizures, and acute kidney injury.
The study, published in the latest issue of the Irish Medical Journal, described the immunisation schedule administered by the HSE as “comprehensive”; while additional vaccines are available privately from GPs, at a cost of €350.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr Crowe, who is a specialist at Crumlin’s intensive care unit, said streptococcus pneumoniae, in particular, “does terrible things to babies”.
She said part of the reluctance to get children immunised stemmed from a lack of experience of diseases such as measles, diphtheria and whooping cough.
“Grandparents might remember the deaths, but we don’t see the numbers in the community anymore, so I think we have forgotten that these are really serious illnesses,” she said.
She said herd immunity not only protected children, but also protected elderly people from conditions including pneumococcal pneumonia. She said public education was probably the most important thing.
“If you look at what they’ve done with smoking, putting horrible photos on cigarette boxes, maybe what we need to do is remind people what these conditions look like,” she said.