A new meningitis vaccine is being introduced in Ireland following a recent spike in cases of a particularly deadly type of meningococcal disease.
Since 2014, cases of meningococcal W (MenW) have more than tripled in Ireland, with 12 cases reported last year.
The MenACWY vaccine is already available in other European countries, including Britain and the Netherlands.
In countries where the vaccine is available, it is administered to teenagers to prevent the spread of MenW.
The number of cases of MenW in Ireland is still relatively small but it is a particularly virulent strain and it is on the rise.
As well as protecting against MenW, the vaccine also offers protection against three other deadly types of meningococcal disease.
Health Minister Simon Harris has approved the introduction of the MenACWY vaccine, and the Department is liaising with the HSE with a view to its administration in the 2019 / 2020 academic year.
A family recently affected by MenW in Ireland contacted the Meningitis Research Foundation and made a personal appeal to Health Minister, Simon Harris, to make the vaccine available.
The Meningitis Research Foundation has been in touch with several families in Ireland who tragically lost children to meningococcal disease, including a recent death from MenW.
In a letter to Mr Harris in February the charity warned that the particularly deadly strain of MenW bacteria circulating in Ireland was the same strain that had been spreading in much of Europe.
As well as having a high fatality rate, it can be very hard to recognise because patients often have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, without the characteristic signs of meningitis and septicaemia, such as non-blanching rash.
Meningitis can strike quickly and can kill within 12 hours. About a third of survivors can be left with life-changing after-effects, some as serious as brain damage, limb loss, blindness or hearing loss.
The charity's regional director, Diane McConnell, said there was a higher than normal incidence of meningococcal meningitis reported in Ireland during the last few weeks of last year and the first weeks of 2019.
“The introduction of the MenACWY vaccine into the schedule is particularly welcomed because it means that the Irish population will be protected against more types of meningitis and septicaemia,” she said.
Both MenB and MenC are covered in the current immunisation schedule in Ireland, with MenC offered since the year 2000 and MenB offered to babies since December 2016.
Meanwhile, the president of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Padraig McGarry, has warned that widespread dangerous misinformation about vaccination programmes must be resisted.
Dr McGarry said it was terrible to see how misinformation being spread online and offline could convince people not to vaccinate their children.
“The simple truth is that vaccines are safe and effective, and all parents should act to protect their children by ensuring they get vaccinated,” he said.