The mother of a teenage girl left severely disabled by meningitis is pleading with the Government to introduce the meningitis B vaccine as part of the childhood immunisation programme.
Stephanie Casey’s daughter Emily, who cannot walk and is brain-damaged, contracted meningococcal B meningitis and septicaemia (MenB) when she was four.
Ms Casey, who lives in Dalkey, Co Dublin, said her daughter’s courage was inspiring but they wished there had been a vaccine to prevent her illness.
“It is 15 years since my daughter had MenB, resulting in devastating consequences including acquired brain injury and two years spent in hospital,” she said. “MenB has given Emily 15 years of ongoing disability and suffering.”
Emily, 19, said meningitis took away her speech and movement for a long time.
“I began to whisper words after seven weeks in a coma,” she said. “Now I can speak and move my hands but I can’t walk and am confined to a wheelchair.”
Ms Casey said they were overjoyed when they heard that at long last a MenB vaccine had become available to protect children.
“Fourteen years ago a vaccine was only a dream that might never come true,” said Ms Casey. “Now all those years of research have paid dividends. However, it is vital that the Government make the decision so that other children won’t have to experience what Emily has.”
The MenB vaccine was introduced in Britain on September 1 as part of the National Health Service’s childhood immunisation schedule.
It it is understood that the HSE wants to roll out the MenB vaccine in Ireland next year as part of a €17.9m funding plan.
In January, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee recommended a MenB vaccine be introduced to the primary childhood immunisation schedule.
However, neither the HSE nor the Department of Health would comment on the funding application for the vaccine while preparations for Budget 2016 were ongoing.
The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) reckons there are around four cases of meningitis and septicaemia in Ireland every week. The disease can strike without warning, killing one in 10 and leaving up to one in three with life-altering after effects.
While children under five and young adults are most at risk, anyone of any age can contact the disease, which is why the foundation is raising awareness of the disease this week, which is Meningitis Awareness Week.
Vaccines have almost eliminated some types of meningitis and children are routinely vaccinated against Hib, menC and 13 strains of pneumococcal meningitis. However, MenB is the biggest cause of meningitis in Ireland.
MRF medical information officer Caroline O’Connor said it could strike anyone of any age.
“It is such a fast-moving disease — vaccination and awareness is the only way to combat it,” said Ms O’Connor.
She said Ireland has the highest rate of MenB per capita in Europe and the second highest in the world, second only to New Zealand.
The MenB vaccine was developed two years ago. It has been available privately in Ireland since 2013 but is every expensive. It can cost between €130 and €180 for one dose and that does not include the cost of administering it. Between two and four doses are needed, plus a booster shot later on.
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