Results of meningitis vaccination review, begun last June, still awaited

Dáil told of claims of ‘medical apartheid’ not to supply vaccine free to children over three

An outbreak of meningitis with up to 20 cases including meningitis B, have been reported to the HSE and there have been some deaths.

An outbreak of meningitis with up to 20 cases including meningitis B, have been reported to the HSE and there have been some deaths.

 

The Department of Health is still waiting for the results of a review of meningitis vaccinations from the national immunisation advisory committee, seven months after it announced it would undertake an assessment, the Dáil has heard.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty made the claim as he pointed to calls by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) for the meningitis B vaccination to be rolled out to children over the age of three.

Mr Doherty said the president of the NAGP had described it as “medical apartheid” that only parents with money could afford to pay to inoculate their children outside the qualifying age bracket.

Children born after October 2016 are inoculated free of charge against meningitis B but the immunisation programme is not available to older children and the vaccine costs €450.

Replying for the Government, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said it was “important to reassure parents that no deaths to our knowledge can be attributed to meningitis B”.

He stressed that meningitis B is most common in children under one year and Ireland is the second country in the EU to offer the vaccination programme to those children.

But there are no plans at the moment to extend the vaccination programme to older children.

Mr Coveney said “if we felt that extending the scheme was the right thing to do in terms of health care then that is what we would be doing, but that is not the recommendation at this stage”.

Outbreak

An outbreak of meningitis with up to 20 cases including meningitis B, have been reported to the HSE and there have been some deaths.

Mr Doherty acknowledged that none of the deaths reported were because of meningitis B.

But he said “the reality is that they [national immunisation advisory committee] wrote to the Department back in June last year that they were carrying out a review and the department still has not got back the recommendations.

“And in the middle of all of that we have an outbreak and up to 20 cases have been identified.”

He said parents were asking what they could do because they did not have €450 to pay for immunisation.

“Jack is immunised because Jack is only two but Mary because she’s four isn’t immunised,” he said.

He called for a catch up programme to now be put in place for all children. “This was done for meningitis C and there is no reason bar political will for it to be done with meningitis B.”

Mr Doherty said “there is a review on the table” and asked when it would be completed.

The Tánaiste said there was no lack of political will on the issue and that if it was the recommendation to extend the vaccine to older children it would be done.

“We are proceeding here with caution, taking the advice of medical experts and the committee in charge of making recommendations to Government in this area.”