Ireland’s supply of the BCG vaccine that protects newborn babies against tuberculosis (TB) has run out, with a new batch not expected until July at the earliest.
The HSE has admitted that it is experiencing delays with the supply of the vaccine and says it is a European-wide issue.
There is only one licensed manufacturer of the BCG vaccine in the EU and it has told the health authority that it could take eight weeks or more before new stock could be delivered.
Because the BCG vaccine stock in all areas of the country expired last month, BCG vaccination clinics in HSE clinics and maternity hospitals have been postponed.
The HSE has said its staff would arrange appointments for BCG vaccination clinics when the supply of the vaccine is restored.
There were 107 reported cases of tuberculosis reported to the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre so far this year, compared to 116 over the same period last year.
Latest HSE immunisation uptake statistics show that at 12 months the uptake of the BCG vaccine has fallen from a high of 97% in 2010 to 86% during the third quarter of last year. However, the BCG update data was only available for five of the eight HSE areas and data from the HSE Southern are only related to Kerry data.
Laura Haugh, mother-in-residence for MummyPages.ie, said the HSE should have looked elsewhere for the BCG vaccine.
“This is not a new problem. The HSE has been experiencing supply difficulties for the last 10 years and it seems to happen year in, year out, at various intervals,” she said.
Ms Haugh said parents should not worry that their child is at risk if they do not receive the vaccine at birth, or it is delayed by a number of months, as the risk of TB was very low.
“A baby does not need to have the BCG vaccine before getting any of the other vaccines that are included in the very comprehensive immunisation schedule,” she said.
A child needs five visits to a GP to complete their course of vaccines and Ms Haugh said parents would be reminded at each visit about the BCG vaccine.
The public health nurse would also remind parents about the vaccine when making initial checks during the first three months of their child’s life. Ms Haugh said arrangements could be made for a baby to receive the BCG vaccination as well as other vaccines on the same day.
While the situation was not ideal, children who had not received the BCG over the first 13 months of their life would be picked up by the health system.
“I know it is something that first time mums worry about but any concerns they have would be alleviated by talking to their GP,” said Ms Haugh.
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