Health Minister Simon Harris wants to make children’s vaccinations mandatory and has sought legal advice on the matter.
Mr Harris is also writing to every TD and senator to ask them to publicly support vaccination, hitting out at the “populist nonsense” and scaremongering from some members of the Oireachtas which has led to a dramatic decline in vaccination rates.
Launching an attack on those who put out false information on vaccinations, Mr Harris said it is “irresponsible” and “against the public good” for parents to send an unvaccinated child into a school, creche, or public place. He said they “could actually make other children sick, particularly young babies who might be too young to actually get vaccinated and could then end up with a very significant disease and also vulnerable groups in our community”.
Cases of measles have jumped by more than 200% in Ireland, from 25 cases recorded in 2017 to 86 last year. The HSE was also forced to launch an awareness campaign following significant drop-off rates in girls getting the HPV vaccine.
Mr Harris has confirmed that he is looking at making it compulsory to vaccinate children against dangerous and highly contagious diseases such as measles.
It comes as a number of public figures, including broadcaster and GP Ciara Kelly, have called for the roll-out of a compulsory vaccination programme in schools.
The Department of Health is now also preparing an analysis on what other countries have done.
Mr Harris said more must be done and that politicians and those working in the health sector have a responsibility to put it up to those who are spreading misinformation on vaccinations.
We need to form an alliance of healthcare professionals and policy makers to push back against the absolute nonsense that is put out by some, often on social media, in relation to vaccination,” he said.
“Vaccinations work but we’re seeing the impact of the scaremongering in terms of the rates, not just in this country but in international reports as well.”
In a pointed attack, Mr Harris said it is “time we actually called out our politicians on this question” and said he will be writing to members of the Oireachtas on the issue.
“I want to know does every politician in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann support the childhood immunisation programme and support the HPV vaccine,” he said.
“We have seen populist nonsense from some members of the Oireachtas in relation to vaccination and next week I intend to write to every member of the Oireachtas and I intend to ask them to publicly commit to supporting childhood immunisation vaccination, supporting that programme and to supporting the HPV vaccine for girls and boys. And let’s see because it’s about leadership here.
“It’s about those of us who are public representatives actually taking a stand and working with our constituents and supporting healthcare professionals in their job as well.”
Paying tribute to the late Laura Brennan, who campaigned for girls to get the HPV vaccination, Mr Harris said: “I sat at Laura Brennan’s funeral recently. Laura was a woman I considered to be a friend.
She was an incredible advocate and Laura died of cervical cancer and did so much to promote a vaccine that wasn’t available when she was in school and had it been available Laura might have been with us today.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said vaccine hesitancy is one key reason for the increase in avoidable diseases such as measles.
“The spread of misinformation about vaccinations is quite literally killing people,” he said.
“The lies anti-vaxxers peddle range from stretching the truth to straightforward fake news.
“Some wrongly suggest that people have died from the measles vaccine itself, while unethical and completely discredited research linking autism and vaccines continues to be disseminated.”