Press Release

Meningitis C Programme

Minister Micheál Martin welcomes the recent figures which show a 57% reduction of Meningitis C disease

Background

Meningitis C disease is a severe infection requiring hospital treatment. It may lead to long-term disability and even death. In recent years, the number of cases of Meningococcal infection has been increasing. Prior to the introduction of the vaccine against Meningitis C, there were approximately 130 cases of the disease and up to ten deaths every year in Ireland.

Meningitis C Vaccination Campaign

The Department of Health and Children introduced a National Immunisation Programme against Group C Meningococcal disease in October, 2000 with the objective of immunising the population up to 22 years of age. The first phase of this programme targeted those who were at greatest risk, namely young children and adolescents. This phase of the campaign is now almost complete. While it will take a little longer to fully evaluate the programme, the initial data provided by the National Disease Surveillance Centre are very encouraging. In the seven-month period (October 2000 to April 2001) since the introduction of the new vaccine, 26 cases of Meningitis C have been notified in children aged under 5 years and young persons aged 15 – 18 years (the target groups for Phase 1 of the campaign) compared to 61 cases in these groups for the same period the previous year. This represents a 57% reduction which is very significant and highlights the importance and success of the campaign to date. There were 3 deaths due to Group C meningococcal disease in these groups in the period October 2000 – April 2001 compared to 5 deaths in the same period the previous year. The marked reduction in the incidence of Group C meningitis is attributable to the vaccine and it is gratifying to see a reduction in cases at this early stage of the campaign.

The Government has justifiably invested £25m in 2000 and£42m in 2001 to eradicate this disease.

Phase 2 of the programme commenced in March and is targeting primary school children as a priority. The vaccine will be administered free of charge in schools by health board vaccination teams or by general practitioners in some areas. Health boards will advise parents in writing of the arrangements in place in their area.

Young persons aged 19 to 22 years and post-primary school students aged 12 to 14 years will be targeted when the current phase 2 is completed.

This vaccine has been incorporated into the Primary Childhood Immunisation Programme and all children will receive the vaccine free in addition to the existing vaccines which are administered at two, four and six months of age.

The Minister has expressed his appreciation of the efforts made by all those involved in the Programme at all levels and would once again encourage all parents to have their children immunised against this serious disease.