Cases of measles rose in areas where HSE stopped jabs
Published 08/12/2012 | 05:00
FURTHER measles outbreaks are expected after an expert report found clusters of children were affected where the HSE had cut back on vaccinations.
Pockets of the country hit hard by the disease matched areas where a school-based programme to deliver to MMR jab was discontinued.
The revelation has emerged in an investigation into potentially life-threatening measles' outbreaks in Dublin last year.
Dr Gabriel Fitzpatrick, a public health specialist in the Health Service Executive (HSE), led a team that found that majority of the 285 cases of measles reported for country last year were in Dublin.
But the areas where children suffered most, and where clusters broke out, were in the north inner-city districts and suburbs.
Many children here ended up hospitalised with the illness.
Measles is highly infectious, with potentially serious complications, including blindness and even death.
Children need two doses of the MMR vaccine to protect them from measles at 12 months of age and again later when they are four or five.
Children ordinarily get this second dose at school, when a public health team come to vaccinate children with the permission of their parents, ensuring that as many youngsters as possible are given the jab.
But Dr Fitzpatrick and the study team found that in 2000 the HSE stopped giving the children in Ballymun and East Wall the school-based vaccine because of a funding crisis.
It was left to the more unreliable system of mothers in these areas remembering to bring their child to a GP for the second dose.
This contrasts to parents in affluent areas where the school-based programme continued.
The findings, published in the journal 'Eurosurveillance', showed that the axing of the school-based vaccination in East Wall and Ballymun was never reversed.
Just 75pc of children in these areas has the full course of MMR vaccine when it should be as high as 95pc to ensure protection.
Dr Fitzmaurice told the Irish Independent: "We showed that the vaccination policy currently being employed in Dublin facilitated the outbreak in the north inner-city during 2011. This policy has not changed and as a result future outbreaks can be expected in this area of the city."
He pointed out that many of those who caught measles were babies under 12 months, who were not eligible for the first dose of vaccine but who should be protected by "herd immunity" as a result of older children getting the jab with less infection circulating.
Dr Fitzmaurice said of the 250 notified cases of measles in Dublin last year, 145 of the children had received no MMR vaccination and for 38 it was unclear if they had any jab.
The outbreak led to 24 children in the Dublin region being admitted to hospital with complications such as seizures, pneumonia, high temperature, dehydration due to nausea and vomiting, and tonsillitis.
No child died from the effects of measles.