TB vaccinations may be scrapped except for babies most in danger
Vaccinating all babies in Ireland against tuberculosis could become a thing of the past.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has begun a public consultation on proposed changes to the BCG vaccination programme here.
At the moment, only Ireland and Portugal in western Europe have a policy of offering universal vaccination against the disease. Some 324 cases were reported here last year.
Under the proposals, a selective vaccination programme would be put in place, which would involve vaccinating only members of the population who are deemed high risk for TB.
The move would see a fall in the number of infants being vaccinated from around 61,000 to just 8,000 per annum.
Dr Mairin Ryan, Hiqua's Director of Health Technology Assessments, said that the new six-week public consultation would start a discussion on the future of Ireland's BCG vaccination programme.
"In the context of a fall in TB incidence and diminished risk of acquiring TB, there has been a shift in the balance between the benefits and risks of offering vaccination to all infants," said Dr Ryan.
"Falling TB incidence has decreased the potential benefit of BCG vaccination for the majority of children," she said.
"Selective vaccination will continue to protect those at higher risk, while avoiding unnecessary side effects in those with a limited capacity to benefit from vaccination."
"The majority of infants vaccinated incur minor side effects, while one in 1,200 infants will incur side effects that require medical follow up," Dr Ryan added.
She said that a selective vaccination strategy would target resources to those who would benefit most. However she said that the TB control programme should be "optimised" prior to any change in the vaccination programme.
The public consultation will last until October 21. The authority will publish the findings of the assessment and advise Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
Meanwhile, Independent Dublin West councillor David McGuinness told the Herald that he has been contacted by "multiple concerned parents in Dublin 15" whose newborn infants were unable to be vaccinated with BCG over the summer due to delays with the supply of the vaccine.
The vaccine is not expected to be delivered into Ireland until October at the earliest, he said.