THE Health Service Executive (HSE) has been forced to suspend BCG clinics for children in north Cork because staff who normally administer the vaccine have been drafted in for the roll-out of the cervical cancer vaccine.
The decision has been taken at a time when public demand for the BCG vaccine has increased in Cork because of an outbreak of TB in a national school. The BCG offers protection against the disease.
The HSE said it had “been necessary to suspend BCG clinics for older children in north Cork” to facilitate the HPV programme which aims to protect more than 57,000 schoolgirls from developing cervical cancer as adults.
The nationwide roll-out of the programme began this week and is being offered to all girls attending first and second year of second level schools.
It has also emerged that school vaccination programmes nationwide have been disrupted. The HSE said that for the next three to four weeks, school vaccination teams are “concentrating on the roll-out of the HPV programme”.
“When the first doses of the HPV vaccine have been given, in about four weeks’ time, the school teams will then move to carry out other vaccinations which will all be completed as usual before the end of the school year,” the HSE said.
It said teams had already been doing other vaccinations in schools before the HPV programme started this week.
Brid Finn, a mother-of -three from Rathcormac, Co Cork, said she was unhappy that she could not access the BCG vaccine for two of her children despite being on a waiting list for almost a year.
“I tried my GP and he said he can’t source it. I tried the HSE in Mallow and I was told the BCG was not currently available in north Cork,” she said.
“The HSE was unable to tell me when it would be available again.”
Ms Finn said this was unacceptable at a time when the HSE is dealing with an outbreak that its own public health officials have described as having “an extraordinarily high rate of attack”.
The outbreak at Scoil Iósaf Naofa, Crab Lane, Ballintemple, Cork, has left six children infected with full-blown TB and 31 with latent TB. Three staff members also have latent TB.
The HSE has been unable to identify the source of infection or the strain of TB and close to 200 children who attend the school must undergo a second round of screening starting next week. This is because of the possibility that children who tested negative for TB in the first round of screening could test positive second time around.
The current waiting list for BCG vaccinations in north Cork is 1,813 and in Cork city it is 3,224.
The HSE said approval for additional staff to administer the vaccine has been given and that “recruitment of these staff is commencing which should allow for the resumption of the scheduled BCG vaccination clinics”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved