The first vaccine which protects against meningitis B should be included in the national immunisation programme, a leading meningitis organisation said this week.
The Galway based national charity Act for Meningitis says the vaccine, which protects against the potentially fatal infection, was licensed by the European Commission in January 2013.
“This medical breakthrough has the potential to save thousands of lives especially among children under the age of five,” says Siobhan Carroll, who co-founded the organisation with her husband Noel after they lost their four-year-old daughter Aoibhe to meningitis in 2008.
“It is now a year and a half year since the lifesaving vaccine received its European licence and was deemed to be safe and effective. It is currently available only on the private market at a very high cost in Ireland to help protect against the leading cause of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia.”
She says it is in the process of being rolled out in the UK. “This means that children up the North will be protected against meningitis B while children down south will not be. The decision is still with the NIAC (National Immunisation Advisory Committee ) to approve the vaccine and have it made freely available through the national immunisation programme.
“Just this week the NIAC, which advises the Department of Health and Children on all vaccine issues, has announced that at risk groups should receive the vaccine and it has been recommended for use with people at risk of the disease because of existing medical conditions. The committee is still considering whether to recommend making the vaccine freely available in Ireland as part of the childhood immunisation schedule.”
Ms Carroll says meningitis can strike rapidly but its impact can last a lifetime. Ireland has the highest incidence of meningococcal disease in Europe with meningitis B accounting for the majority of these cases.
The number of cases of meningococcal disease in Ireland rose by up to 25 per cent last year, she outlines.
“This number is too high with children under the age of five being the highest risk age group. Vaccinations are the only way to prevent meningitis. Time lost is lives lost.”