AN expert committee is examining whether to make a vaccine to protect against meningitis B available free to Irish children.
The European Commission has approved the jab, known as Bexsero, for use in children aged two months and older.
Meningitis Research Foundation Ireland manager Diane McConnell said: "This meningitis B vaccine marks a fantastic breakthrough in our ongoing fight against this life-threatening disease.
"Ireland has the highest incidence of meningococcal serogroup B (MenB) disease in Europe, so it is vital that this vaccine be made available on the national immunisation programme as soon as possible."
A spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that Bexsero is under evaluation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and its decision will be referred to the HSE, which will then decide whether to include it in its free jabs.
Meningitis is commonly cited as the most feared disease by parents because it strikes otherwise healthy children who can die within hours.
About one-in-10 of those who contract the disease will die. Up to one-fifth of survivors suffer devastating disabilities such as brain damage, hearing impairment or limb loss.
Prevention through vaccination is therefore the best defence.
Andrin Oswald, division head of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, makers of the vaccine, said: "Through the combined efforts of many people over two decades, we are closer than ever to seeing an end to this suffering."
The Department of Health said: "There is no doubt about the role that vaccines have played in improving the health of children. The development of new vaccines is very welcome. A Health Technology Assessment, which includes a cost-benefit analysis, is carried out prior to any new vaccine being considered.
"This has a vital role in ensuring that care technologies, including vaccines, are used in a manner appropriate to their ability to maximise health gain and achieve value for money.
"Should NIAC advice recommend the inclusion of a new vaccine into the immunisation programme, the department, in association with the National Immunisation Office, will examine the issue."