Éanna Ó Fátharta was rife with complications at birth, jumping the gun on his due date by a heart-stopping 15 weeks.

His extremely premature arrival on August 11, instead of November 19, scuppered any chance of a smooth delivery and, with it, any chance of entitlement to the HSE’s new and improved immunisation scheme.

Had he stuck to his scheduled date, he would have been one of the lucky babies born since October 1 automatically entitled to Meningococcal B and rotavirus vaccinations, as per the revised primary childhood immunisation schedule.

These new vaccinations, in addition to the traditional 6-in-1, are currently being administered to babies aged two months old, born on or after October 1.

Éanna’s parents, Bláithín Kiernan and Conall Ó Fátharta, feel their child has been penalised on the double.

“Éanna was born with chronic lung disease because his lungs didn’t have time to develop properly. He had a myriad of complications that put him in a high-risk category. We spent 114 days by his side in the hospital and there were many ups and downs,” said Bláithín.

“He is one of a small number of babies whose premature arrival excludes them from the new immunisation schedule and we feel it is unfair given how much he has already been through.”

Bláithín believes it is a small ask that the State make exception for the premature babies whose unavoidable early arrival denies them automatic access to two vaccinations.

MenB vaccine protects against a potentially fatal bacterial infection and is administered at two and four months of age, with a booster dose given at 12 months.

Rotavirus is a viral infection that causes diarrhoea and vomiting in babies and young children and is very infectious.

Éanna’s parents, who live in Cobh, Co Cork, will now have to pay privately for the vaccines: €80 per dose of rotavirus vaccine and €150 per dose of MenB. There is also the possibility of an administration fee, in the region of €35.

Having already racked up considerable travel and subsistence costs on the journeys between Cobh and Cork University Maternity Hospital, it is a bill they could do without.

Their call for premature babies whose due dates fall on or after October 1 to be given access to the vaccinations is supported by the Irish Neonatal Health Alliance.

Mandy Daly, its director of advocacy and policymaking, said the alliance “strongly encourages the HSE to immediately extend the immunisation schedule to include preterm infants born from August 2016”.

Ms Daly, however, pointed to a clause whereby children likely to have frequent admissions should have vaccinations, “thus it can be prescribed for preterm infants who are likely to have multiple hospital admissions but the cost is covered by the hospital”.

The HSE said it was given funding to introduce MenB vaccine and rotavirus oral vaccine “for all babies born on or after October 1, 2016”.

“There is no catch up for rotavirus oral vaccine or MenB vaccine for babies born on or before September 30, 2016,” the HSE said in a statement.

“If parents wish to get MenB vaccine and rotavirus oral vaccines for older babies this can be arranged privately through their GP.”

The HSE said the cost of private vaccines “is outside the remit of the HSE”.

Further information about the primary childhood immunisation programme is available at immunisation.ie


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