Despite the fact that Ireland has the highest incidence of Meningitis B in Europe, no provision as yet has been made to include the new safe vaccine in our infant immunisation schedule, even though it is now available on the NHS in the UK or privately here for €85.
MummyPages.ie, Ireland’s biggest parenting community, is calling on the Government to make provision for Meningitis B and Rotavirus vaccines in the soon-to-be announced Health Service Plan, following the €13.175 billion allocated to the Department of Health and HSE in the recent Finance Budget for 2016.
Meningococcal Group B (MenB) is the killer bacteria which is the leading cause of meningitis and septicaemia, and the biggest cause of infant illness in Ireland. A life-saving vaccine ‘Bexsero’ which could protect thousands of children from disability and illness, has been available here privately since December 2013, however it comes with a hefty price tag at €85 per vaccine, with three injections required, thus making it inaccessible to thousands of families. While the Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis among infants and children no provision has been made by the Government to integrate the vaccine into Ireland’s immunisation programme.
It is expected that the Department of Health will announce the Health Service Plan for 2016 in the coming weeks, which outlines how the HSE intends to allocate resources for the year ahead. MummyPages.ie is urging the Government to make provisions to include the Meningitis B and Rotavirus virus vaccines into the country’s Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule, and to allow families access to the vaccine under the present Free GP Care for Under 6’s scheme.
Shockingly, there were over 250 deaths caused by meningococcal disease in Europe in 2012, nearly 80 were children under the age of five. On average there are 200 cases of the disease reported in Ireland every year. Worryingly, 10% of people who contract meningitis and septicaemia die as a result, and a further 10% of survivors will battle with a major disability including amputations, brain damage and hearing loss. Children and adolescents are most susceptible, last year 58% of cases occurred in children under 5 years of age and the majority (78%) occurred in young people under nineteen years of age.
After two years of deliberation, The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has finally made a positive recommendation to the Department of Health regarding the provision of the vaccine ‘Bexsero’. The committee’s only reservation is that the vaccine cannot currently be made available at a cost effective price, begging the question how much is a child’s life worth?
Produced by GlaxoSmithKline, the ‘Bexsero’ vaccine costs a whopping €85 a dose, and with three doses needed it will cost the average family €255 per child to protect them from contracting Meningitis B. After purchasing the vaccine in the pharmacy, families will need to bring their child to a GP to administer the vaccine, adding a further €50 to the cost if the child is over 6 years of age or if their GP is not participating in the free under 6’s scheme. A representative from the Health Service Executive (HSE) has confirmed that the Men B vaccine is not provided through the Community Drugs Schemes.
According to the HSE’s submission to the Government in preparation for the Budget 2016, it will cost the Government in the region of €17.9m to provide both the Meningitis B and Rotavirus vaccines to around 70,000 children next year.
Last June, the UK became the first country in the world to offer national and publicly funded Men B immunisations to children alongside other routine immunisations through the NHS National Immunisation Programme. The life-saving meningitis jab is being offered by the NHS for babies aged two months, followed by a second dose at four months and a booster at 12 months. There will also be a limited catch-up programme for infants who are due their 3 and 4 month vaccinations in September, to protect them when they are most at risk.
Commenting is Laura Haugh, Laura is Mum-in-Residence with MummyPages.ie, Ireland’s largest online parenting community:
“Meningitis B is a very serious and potentially lethal illness. It is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK and Ireland, with one in 10 cases resulting in death and many more affected left with serious disabilities including the loss of limbs, hearing loss and brain damage.”
“The widespread rash, shock and features of meningitis are every parent’s nightmare. The survival rate of meningococcal disease varies depending on how quickly medical staff make the diagnosis, however the symptoms can develop quite quickly and can be confused with other illnesses.”
“When it comes to Meningitis B, MummyPages believes the Government should adopt a ‘prevention is better than cure policy’, by making the ‘Bexsero’ vaccine more readily available through the National Immunisation Programme. This way the Government can dramatically decrease the number of incidents of meningococcal disease in Ireland so that it is on par with the lower rates reported by our European counterparts.”
“It is shocking to think the ‘Bexsero’ vaccine has been licensed since 2013 but no provisions have been made by the Government to make it more widely available here to the thousands of families who cannot afford the estimated €255 vaccine plus €50 GP fee to vaccinate a child.”
“When it comes to the Rotavirus virus, it is predicted every child in Ireland will contract the virus by their 5th birthday. Young children are mostly affected with babies and toddlers between 6-24 months of age most at risk of developing infection due to the virus. The nasty virus causes severe inflammation of the stomach and bowels resulting in symptoms such as fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.”
“While many cases are mild, others can be severe, as the rapid loss of fluids that accompanies vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration. Babies and toddlers can become dehydrated faster than older children and adults. Parents need to be extra vigilant in these cases MummyPages advises mums who are concerned their child may be dehydrated to seek medical help as children may need to have fluids administered intravenously.”