Press Release

Minister for Health launches new alliance aimed at improving vaccination rates and reducing vaccine hesitancy

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD has today (Tuesday) launched the Vaccine Alliance aimed at boosting the uptake of childhood vaccines and reducing vaccine hesitancy.

The Alliance will include healthcare professionals, policy makers, patient advocates, students, and representatives from groups most affected by vaccine hesitancy.

The Minister said: “The immense suffering that today’s vaccine preventable diseases caused to children, families and societies 50 years ago should act as a constant reminder that we need to keep promoting and investing in our vaccination programme.

“Vaccination rates across the country are falling and diseases we had consigned to the history books are now making a comeback. We cannot afford to do nothing. We cannot allow the success of our childhood immunisation programme become its enemy.

“This Alliance will build on the success we have had with the HPV vaccine where rates increased from 51% to 70% in a short period of time and it will ensure parents have accurate, evidence-based information about vaccinations.”

A Steering Group to guide the work of the Vaccine Alliance has already met and includes a wide range of organisations including Barnardos, Unicef Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, Pavee Point, and the Union of Students of Ireland, as well as parents, doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists. Further organisations will be added once the vision, values and aims of the Alliance have been agreed.

The Department of Health conducted research on vaccination to help inform the work of the Vaccine Alliance.

The research showed that:
· the overwhelming majority of research participants believed that vaccinating their child was extremely important;
· some parents have genuine concerns about the use of vaccinations;
· healthcare professionals were the most trusted source of information; and
· vulnerable groups had specific issues that need to be addressed.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne, also spoke at the launch and welcomed the establishment of the Vaccine Alliance, saying; “Increasing the uptake of vaccines is key to protecting the public from threats to their health and wellbeing. This is central to the vision of Healthy Ireland where our primary focus is on prevention.

“Immunisation is a hugely important part of this work because vaccines prevent the spread of infectious disease. It is also vital that parents and families get the facts and hear the message that vaccines work and save lives.
We must also be particularly sensitive and responsive to the specific needs of vulnerable groups, and work to deliver vaccination programmes in ways that are sensitive to their lifestyles, taking into account issues such as homelessness, literacy and language difficulties”.

Dr Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer said that the new Alliance will strengthen engagement across communities on vaccination and will build on the relationships that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals already have as the most trusted source of vaccine-related information for parents and their children.

Minister Harris also announced that the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has agreed to rename its Medal for Patient Advocacy, the ‘Laura Brennan Advocacy Medal’, in recognition of the late advocate’s work in increasing the HPV vaccine uptake. Ms Brennan’s parents attended the launch of the Vaccine Alliance.

The Alliance will be open to organisations and individuals that support its principles and its membership will be finalised between now and December.

In addition to the Alliance, the Minister is to meet with social media companies to discuss their efforts in combatting vaccine misinformation.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

1. After clean water, vaccination is the most effective intervention for saving lives and promoting good health.
2. Vaccination currently prevents 2-3 million deaths every year. An additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided, however, if global vaccination coverage improves.
3. In 1950, there were approximately 5,000 cases of rubella reported in Ireland, along with 500 cases of diptheria and 500 cases of polio. By comparison, in 2017, there were no cases of diptheria, rubella or polio. The last reported case of polio in Ireland was in 1984.
4. If 1,000 people get Meningococcal C infection, 50 will die. If 1,000 people are immunised, 50 will have discomfort, redness and swelling where the injection was given or will have a fever.
5. 1 in 1000 cases of measles is fatal. 72 children and adults died from measles in the European Region in 2018.
6. There has been a 72% decrease in cases of rotavirus since the vaccine was introduced for babies in 2016.
7. There were 69 cases of whooping cough in 2017 in babies less than 6 months of age. All pregnant women should get the whooping cough vaccine to give their baby the best protection during their first few months of life.
8. Each year in Ireland 300 women develop cervical cancer and 90 die from the disease. HPV vaccine protects against 7 out of 10 cervical cancers.

Vaccines – Frequently Asked Questions

Why are vaccinations important?
Vaccinations are important to protect against Vaccine Preventable Diseases. They prime our immune systems to respond to pathogens which could otherwise cause infection or, as in the case of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), cancer.

What are the risks of not vaccinating?
Those who are not vaccinated and have not been exposed to a vaccine preventable disease are at a higher risk of developing infection and if they become infected they are more likely to develop complications compared with those who have been vaccinated. They also risk further passing their infection onto others. This includes people in the population who are unable to develop an immune response to fight infectious diseases and are at a high of serious complications and death, and infants who have not yet been fully vaccinated and are similarly are at risk of serious complications.

Are vaccines safe?
Yes. Despite the myths that have led to doubts among some people, an extensive body of research has proven the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. All vaccines used in Ireland are safe. They are licenced by either the Health Products Regulatory Authority or the European Medicines Agency only when they have been shown to be safe and effective. Licenced vaccines undergo thorough testing in multiple phases of trials before they are approved for use. Vaccines would not be recommended by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee or form part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule if there was uncertainty about their safety profile.