Parents in some of the wealthiest parts of the State have been slowest to have their children vaccinated, unpublished figures show.
Uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine among infants in southeast Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, south county Dublin and east Wicklow was 87 per cent in the first three months of this year, compared with 95 per cent in the Mayo, Galway and Roscommon area.
The Health Service Executive data, to be communicated to Community Health Organisation (CHO) areas this week, show the lowest uptake of the vaccine between January and March was in the eastern region of CHO 6, making it most vulnerable to an outbreak of measles or mumps.
The western region of CHO 2 had the highest uptake of the vaccine in the first quarter.
As children and adolescents return to schools and colleges this week the HSE is urging parents to check their children’s vaccination records and ensure they are up to date.
Immunisation rates for MMR have fallen to 91 per cent nationally – from up to 93 per cent in recent years – and are as low as 85 per cent in some parts of the country.
In some ways we are a victim of our own success in that people don't hear about cases of measles
Dr Suzanne Cotter, HSE specialist in public health medicine, said the "slippage" in recent years was disappointing.
“As a country we need to see a vaccination rate of 95 per cent, to protect the community. These are not just numbers. They are children and we are talking about children’s lives.”
GP and spokesman for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Liam Twomey, said there had "always been difficulties convincing parents [immunisation] is important. Parents have lots going on, they let it slip, they forget about it."
He did not believe anti-vaccination misinformation had much impact, but suggested “in some ways we are a victim of our own success in that people don’t hear about cases of measles, don’t believe it’s a real danger and so don’t see immunisation as a priority”.
However, when there are outbreaks in areas this “can jolt people out of their complacency”, he said. Asked about the disparity between uptake rates in different areas, he replied: “Those rates could turn around and next year be completely different.”
Dr Cotter said immune-compromised children who could not tolerate vaccinations depended on their more robust peers to get their vaccinations to protect them. “Parents have a responsibility to their own children and to the community,” she said.
Symptoms to look out for are irritation, flu-like symptoms, a rash in the case of measles and swelling along the jaw line with mumps.
Anyone with such symptoms should stay at home so they do not infect other people. Adults can avail of the free vaccine with the only charge being their GP administration charge. Children are routinely vaccinated at 12 months, with a booster in Junior Infants.