The Government will not introduce mandatory vaccination but instead seek to stamp out myths and set up an alliance to boost the uptake of immunisations.
A cross-party Dáil motion, to be tabled by Health Minister Simon Harris, proposes setting up a vaccine alliance of policymakers, patient advocates, and clinicians.
However, the minister has stopped short of introducing mandatory vaccination, particularly for children in schools or creches, while the Government awaits legal advice from Attorney General Seamus Woulfe.
“Vaccine hesitancy is one of the greatest threats to public health and the health service is working extremely hard to counter the myths spread about vaccination and increase the uptake rates,” Mr Harris said.
“We have had some success in this regard but we have a significant body of work to do. This September, we will introduce the HPV vaccine for boys and roll out a new vaccine for meningitis. We will also attend the Global Vaccination Summit.
“I believe this is an opportune time for the Oireachtas to send out a very clear message about its position on the issue of vaccinations.
The most recent HSE reports show there have been 1,443 outbreaks of mumps this year, an increase of 1,300 on the same period last year. There have also been 57 cases of measles, up by six on the same period in 2018. Measles and mumps can be prevented by the MMR vaccine given to school children.
Details of the Dáil motion include reference to health workers taking a lead in educating communities.
It notes that vaccination is one of the most successful health interventions worldwide, preventing 2.5m deaths each year. The eradication of smallpox and the virtual elimination of polio and the protection against cervical cancer have all arisen from vaccination.
However, vaccine hesitancy has been identified by the World Health Organization as a leading global threat.
There has been a 30% increase in cases of measles worldwide and there is a challenge, particularly with social media, in tackling myths around vaccination, the Dáil motion adds.
Mr Harris said he had the support of Sinn Féin, Labour, the Green Party, and Independents4Change. Fianna Fáil is also expected to back the move. The awareness campaign will begin work in September. Mr Harris’s spokeswoman said legal advice was still awaited on making vaccinations compulsory.
“There are parents who have concerns and we want to work with them,” said Mr Harris. “However, there are also others who deliberately spread lies and nonsense about vaccinations and we need to call them out too.”