Efforts by health authorities to find an alternative supply of the vaccine given to babies to protect them against tuberculosis have so far failed.
Over a year ago the HSE admitted it was experiencing delays in the supply of BCG vaccine, a problem that is affecting most countries in Europe, not just Ireland.
There is only one licensed manufacturer of the vaccine providing it to countries within the European Union.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority has been unable to find an alternative supply of BCG vaccine that met safety, quality and effectiveness standards so it could be used in Ireland.
Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on community and national drugs strategy, Jack Chambers, said the shortage of the vaccine was a growing concern for families.
“At least 50,000 babies, and potentially many more, will not receive their BCG when appropriate,” said Mr Chambers. “This is a matter of real concern, given the dangers posed to humans by TB and the fact that the bacterial disease remains a problem in Ireland.”
Mr Chambers said the vaccine gave adequate protection to 80% of infants who received it and had been used routinely in Ireland and worldwide since the 1950s.
“We should not alter our national immunisation strategy because of a shortage of supply. While the HSE is deflecting the issue, this government must ensure that all is done to procure an appropriate supply as a matter of urgency.”
The HSE said the number of cases in Ireland had been falling, and there were no cases in young children in 2014. It said most European countries did not give BCG to all babies, and babies were not at risk of TB because of the delay in getting BCG vaccine.
Last December the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) recommended a change from a universal to a selective national BCG vaccination strategy but stressed that it must be supported by a clear commitment to introduce improved systematic and comprehensive TB control measures.
According to latest TB figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre for the first quarter of this year, it was notified about 86 cases and more than a third (37.2%) were Irish born. Resistance to drug treatment was reported in five cases.
There were no children under the age of four with the disease. However, the TB notifications included three children aged between five and nine and two aged 10 to 14.
Two people with TB died between January and March this year, but neither death had TB reported as the cause.
There were four TB outbreaks reported to the HPSC over the three month period — a total of 16 cases of active TB, 13 of whom were hospitalised.
There were two family outbreaks — one occurred in a private house and one occurred across an extended family. The family outbreaks happened in the eastern and southern part of the country.
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