Press Release

Martin urges parents to have children vaccinated

The Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin T.D., today (15 February 2000) urged parents to make sure that their children are vaccinated against a number of serious childrhood illnesses. He added that the current level of immunisation uptake, especially of the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine, was a cause for concern, and leaves Ireland vulnerable to an epidemic. About one child in four has not been immunised against measles.

Underlining the importance of making sure that the child population is immunised against measles and other potentially serious illnesses, the Minister said, “Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1983, there were almost 10,000 cases per year in Ireland and the number of cases has declined very substantially since the vaccine was introduced. These advances have been due in large part to the development of safe and effective vaccines and of course work continues to develop effective new vaccines against a range of other conditions.” He urged parents who have not yet had their children immunised to contact their family doctor to arrange for this to be done.

The Minister said that the very success of vaccination has in part been responsible for a lessening in many people’s concern about some infectious diseases. “Most parents of today have, thankfully, had little if any direct experience of the damage which can result from contracting diseases, such as polio or diphtheria, which were commonplace in earlier decades. This may in part explain why, compared with most other European countries, Ireland has an unsatisfactorily low level of primary immunisation uptake, despite the vaccinations being available free of charge from family doctors.”

The Minister recognised that parents must be given accurate information about the benefits of vaccination and about possible side-effects. “At the same time the public must be reassured that modern vaccines are safe and are subject to rigorous testing before licensing and to ongoing surveillance once in use”, he stressed.

The Minister reiterated the Government’s commitment to the introduction later this year of the new conjugate vaccine to protect against Group C meningococcal disease, which represents about 40% of meningitis cases in Ireland. The vaccine is expected to confer prolonged protection against this strain of the disease and, when licensed, will be incorporated into the Primary Childhood Immunisation Programme and will be given to older children and young people in a “catch-up” programme. This will be a major undertaking, eventually involving the vaccine being administered to about a third of the population.

It is important that the programme for delivering the vaccine is effective and well-organised and, at the request of the Department, the health boards are currently undertaking detailed planning in this regard. “While we wish to see the new vaccine in use here at the earliest possible date, it can be introduced in this country only when the statutory licensing authority, the Irish Medicines Board, has granted the necessary authorisation,” the Minister explained. “The latest indications are that we can expect the new Group C vaccine to be licensed and available for use in Ireland in the early summer of this year,” he said, describing the development as a major step forward in the fight against meningitis.

The Minister recognised that the Guidelines also deal in with immunisation and health information for travel. Irish people are travelling abroad much more now than was the case even ten years ago, and an increasing number are making long-haul journeys to more exotic destinations, either for holidays or on business. “It is of course advisable that persons intending to travel to countries where certain infectious diseases are prevalent ensure that they take appropriate precautions against contracting such diseases”, he said.

The Minister was speaking at the launch of the Immunisation Guidelines for Ireland, produced by the Immunisation Advisory Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. The Minister expressed his appreciation of the work which had gone into the new version of Immunisation Guidelines, which would be of great value and assistance to a wide range of users.