Call for meningitis vaccine to be made available

Parents of children who have died of meningitis have called for a new vaccine for the B strain of the disease to be introduced here without delay.

The call comes as it was announced by the advisory committee on vaccinations in Britain that the vaccine will be included in the childhood immunisation programme there.

The vaccine was approved by the European Medicines Agency in November 2012. It was licensed by the European Commission in January of last year.

Ireland has the highest incidence of meningitis B in Europe and, in just a five-week period, there have been seven confirmed cases of the disease this year.

The mortality rate for meningitis B is one in 20 children, while 10% of children who contract the disease will be left with significant, ongoing disabilities including brain damage and hearing loss.

Last year, drug company Novartis developed a new vaccine for the disease which is 73% effective.

However, the Government’s advisory group, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, is still to decide whether it should become part of the of the public vaccination programme.

ACT for Meningitis is now calling on the Government to place the new vaccine on the immunisation schedule without delay.

Siobhán Carroll, chief executive of ACT for Meningitis, who lost her daughter Aoibhe to the disease, said the Government needed to place the health of children above all other priorities when deciding on introducing the vaccine.

“While it is great news that the meningitis B vaccine will now be offered to babies in the UK, it is of the utmost importance that this vaccine is also introduced to the national immunisation programme in Ireland.

“We need this vaccine to be made available as soon as possible to all our children. Protecting our children must be considered a major public health priority.

“The recent cases highlight the urgent need for the Government to act now and implement the vaccine in Ireland. This disease is preventable and [it] will save lives,” she said.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee is to meet on Monday to discuss the vaccine and its potential implementation to the immunisation schedule.

The number of meningitis cases has dropped from 515 in 2000 to 81 last year, including 67 cases of meningitis B.

The new vaccine is available here but only to people who pay privately. The average cost per injection is €180 and children will need two injections with a booster.

With approximately 70,000 children born here each year, the estimated cost of introducing the vaccine to the immunisation schedule is about €37m.

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