Fine Gael Cork based Senator, Tim Lombard, has called for the Meningitis B vaccine programme, introduced in October 2016, to be back-dated to allow for a catch up scheme for all children.
Lombard raised the issue with Minister of State in the Department of Health, Catherine Byrne TD in the Seanad this week.
“The Meningitis B vaccine programme introduced by my Fine Gael colleague and Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, in October last year was a great incentive for families to ensure their children are vaccinated. We are all aware of the dangers of Meningitis B and it is a critical investment in our future to immunise against it.
“This incentive was made available to children born from the time of its introduction in October 2016 onwards. Where this has occurred with previous vaccination programmes in the past, a backdated catch up scheme would sometimes be introduced at a later date, ensuring that children born before the scheme was introduced could also benefit.
“This is exactly what I am calling for in the case of the Meningitis B vaccine. While I understand the funds are not there to do it at the moment, I am hopeful it can be done as soon as possible and I will continue to push for the backdating of this scheme.
“Contracting Meningococcal disease can be life threatening; 1 in 20 who contract it will die. There is an average of 170 cases of Meningitis B in Ireland per year and 10% of the survivors endure major disability, including amputations, loss of hearing and brain damage.
“The dangers are very real, but we are lucky to live in a time where medical assistance is available. Not only does early diagnosis and antibiotics ensure most people who contract the disease will make a full recovery, but better than that is that Meningitis B is preventable through vaccination.
“A recent case of a teenage death in Cork has highlighted the sadness and loss caused by this disease, and the fact it could have been prevented only intensifies the wretchedness of the situation.
“The Meningitis B vaccine has been shown to be very effective, providing great protection against contracting this particular strain of the disease. We have seen in other countries how an immunisation scheme, offered and run through the school systems, has reduced the rate of this particular meningococcal strain to a level where experts deem routine vaccination unnecessary. It was also noted that the epidemic waned faster than would have been expected if there had been no intervention.
“In Ireland, the HSE National Cold Chain Service has distributed 35,500 doses of the Men B vaccine to date. This is sufficient to vaccinate the children in the cohort born on or after the 1st October 2016, although the uptake figures are not yet available.
“While this immunisation programme is great step in safeguarding infant Ireland against infection, I believe it is essential that it be extended toward all Irish youth. There are two vulnerable age groups, the 0-5 and 13-18; these are the children that should receive vaccination first, after which we have to continue distribution to the 6-12 year olds.
“Additionally, my own research has found that the current average cost of this vaccination (for those outside the parameters of the free immunisation scheme) is, on average, €150 per shot. This is a huge financial burden for parents, especially when considering that children over 9 months receive 2 shots and those under 9 months require 3.
“I believe a catchup scheme should be introduced to help alleviate the cost of protecting our children against infectious and life-threatening diseases. Not only is it financially supportive for parents and families, but this Men B vaccine is a crucial for the future health of our children.”