Press Release

Minister Martin announces Phase 2 of the Meningitis C Programme

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr. Micheál Martin, T.D., is pleased to announce the commencement of Phase 2 of the National Immunisation Programme aimed at the prevention of Group C Meningitis. Phase 1 of this campaign was launched by the Minister on 20 October 2000.

Phase 2 will target 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.

A public awareness campaign by health boards through the Office for Health Gain will commence tomorrow, Wednesday 21 March. The campaign will run over the next two weeks on national and local radio and in the national and provincial press. Parents who require further information may also contact their health board helpline or access information on http://www.meningitis.ie.

Phase 1 of the campaign was aimed at those at greatest risk of contracting the disease; children under 5 years of age and young persons aged 15 to 18. This phase of the campaign is now almost complete and preliminary uptake information available from health boards is positive.

This success is reflected in data provided by the NDSC and the Meningococcal Reference Laboratory which indicate a significant reduction in Group C Meningococcal disease notifications over the past five months since the launch of the campaign. In the period October 2000 to February 2001 thirty seven cases of Group C meningitis were reported compared with eighty four cases over the same period in the previous year. This represents a 56 % reduction which is very significant and highlights the importance and success of the campaign to date. The Minister has expressed his appreciation of the efforts made by all those involved in the Programme at all levels.

Anyone targeted by phase 1 of the programme but who has not as yet been immunised should contact their General Practitioner or student health representative immediately in order to avail of the free vaccine. 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.

Meningitis C is a very serious disease and a public health hazard. It is a devastating condition with a significant mortality rate. It can also cause long term disabilities in the form of developmental delay, hearing loss and neurological damage. The Minister would once again encourage all parents to have their children immunised against this disease.