The chicken pox vaccine must be included in routine childhood immunisation without delay, a Fine Gael TD has said.
Deputy Colm Burke called for the rollout of the vaccine to be expedited after HIQA recently recommended its inclusion after conducting a public consultation and assessment.
Deputy Burke said: “Ireland is lagging behind its European counterparts when it comes administering this vaccine to children as part of their routine childhood immunisations.
“Some 12 countries in Europe including Germany, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg have had the vaccine as standard since the early noughties.
“The USA and Canada have been universally vaccinating children against chicken pox since the 90s.”
Deputy Burke continued: “Chickenpox is caused by a highly infectious virus called varicella zoster. In the absence of vaccination, most people get infected in childhood and usually have a mild illness, with the main symptoms being an itchy, blistering rash.
“But the virus can occasionally cause severe symptoms – for instance, if it triggers bacterial infections – and can even be fatal, especially in those with weak immune systems.
“In May the HSE revealed that there has been a significant increase in the number of hospitalisations due to complications with chickenpox so far this year.
“They say this was rooted in the unwinding of pandemic restrictions seeing an upsurge in a wide range of infectious diseases.
“The HSE also reported that levels of chickenpox are normally lower during the summer months but due to changes in the patterns of how infectious diseases spread following the pandemic, there is a possibility that levels could remain elevated for a longer period.
“The time to act is now. Why put children through completely unnecessary pain and discomfort, and parents through great worry, when we have an easy and worthwhile solution at hand.
“Also, from an education and industry point of view, children can be forced to miss up to a fortnight of school or childcare due to this illness, meaning parents also face chaos trying to get time off work to care for them – sometimes for even longer than a fortnight if more than one child in the house gets the virus.”
Deputy Burke continued: “Currently, parents and children have access to the chickenpox vaccine in Ireland, but are forced to pay up to €180 for the two doses required.
“Uptake is reported as low which is in no doubt due to the prohibitive cost, but also the lack of information given to parents about its existence, because the focus is always on the routine immunisations.
“We have the green light from HIQA – why delay in taking the first step towards eradicating this disease from the country?” Deputy Burke concluded.