herald

Thursday 24 January 2019

Parents now facing €280 fee for jabs to protect children against deadly meningitis B

Dr Kevin Kelleher has urged parents of babies to avail of the free meningitis vaccines if they are eligible
Dr Kevin Kelleher has urged parents of babies to avail of the free meningitis vaccines if they are eligible

Thousands of parents whose young children missed out on free meningitis vaccines will have to pay €280 for a private jab.

The recent death of three people from meningitis B has led to urgent calls for parents to be on the lookout for symptoms.

The HSE rollout of the vaccine to protect against the deadly strain of meningitis began in 2016 and only applies to babies born since October that year. Older children lost out and the HSE decided not to provide a catch-up.

GPs were yesterday inundated with calls from anxious parents enquiring about the availability of the meningitis vaccine. Most were shocked at the high cost of the jabs.

Pharmacist and Fianna Fail's primary care spokesman, John Brassil TD, said it is time for the HSE to consider making the vaccine available free to older children.

"It was a welcome development in 2016 when the life-saving meningitis B vaccine was made available free of charge for infants up to the age of 12 months," he said. "However, for other children, there is a cost of some €280. For a family with several children, such a cost could be prohibitive. It could also be life-threatening. We need to examine what we can do to make it free for all children.

"The HSE must urgently consider providing it free to children in areas at risk."

The HSE said yesterday that it does not decide on policy.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee, made up of experts in a number of specialties, makes recommendations on vaccines.

Eligible

Meanwhile, HSE public health specialist Dr Kevin Kelleher urged parents whose babies are eligible for free vaccines to avail themselves of the jab.

There has been a fall-off in take up. A vaccine that protects against the meningitis C strain is given at six months and at 13 months. The vaccine against the B strain is given at two, four and 12 months.

Adolescents are routinely offered the MenC vaccine in the first year of secondary school.

Older teenagers and young adults up to the age of 23 who never received a MenC jab are recommended to get the vaccine. Dr Kelleher said immediate medical attention is needed if someone displays symptoms.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said meningitis cases have been reported in Dublin and other regions.

The HSE declined to say which counties are affected because of patient confidentiality.

Those affected range from infants to the elderly. Diane McConnell, the regional director of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said anyone with questions or concerns can call the helpline on 1800 41 33 44.

Siobhan Carroll, of ACT for Meningitis, said anyone who wants to speak to a family support officer should telephone 091 380058.

Meanwhile, more children are expected to be struck down with flu, which has already claimed six lives this winter.

The return to school will increase the spread of the virus among children, said Dr Kelleher. Flu is now circulating more intensely and is expected to worsen, posing a threat for the next six to eight weeks.

It has led to 29 patients being admitted to intensive care so far and has led to four outbreaks in which it has spread from one person to another. Swine flu is the main strain circulating.

Dr Kelleher said no children or pregnant women were among the flu fatalities, although both were susceptible to swine flu. However, flu is impacting on the city's trolley crisis which took a turn for the worse this week.

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