HEALTH chiefs have ordered an immediate mumps vaccination programme in second-level schools in the face of a major outbreak of the disease among young people.
The targets of the campaign are Transition Year, fifth and sixth year students, among whom there are "many highly susceptible students at immediate high risk".
The incidence of the disease this year is already running at over 15 times more than in the same period in 2008, according to the Health Service Executive
In the first such national response to an outbreak situation, larger schools will be prioritised between now and the end of May, and programmes will continue in September.
The Department of Education has requested schools to co-operate fully with the vaccination programme.
It is not mandatory and a parental consent form will be sent home with students below the age of 18.
There have been concerns about a possible link between the vaccine and autism, but the HSE says no such link has been established.
Dr Brenda Corcoran from the HSE's National Immunisation Office said outbreaks of mumps had become increasingly frequent in those aged 15 to 24 over recent years.
So far this year, there has been a huge increase in notifications reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre -- 1,957 compared to 128 for the same period in 2008.
She said the outbreak was happening because there were lots of older teenagers who had not had two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and outbreaks had been reported in second-level schools, colleges, universities, and sports clubs.
The MMR, introduced into Ireland in 1988, is offered to all children aged 12-15 months and a second dose is administered at four to five years of age.
Between 1992-99, the age for the second MMR dose was 11-12 years, which means that some teenagers and young adults only got, at maximum, one dose of the vaccine.
Dr Corcoran said recent studies estimate that one dose of MMR is approximately 80pc effective and estimates two doses of MMR range in effectiveness from 88-95pc.
If a young person's MMR history is not known, an extra dose of MMR would do no harm, she said.
For vaccination sessions, schools have been told that the HSE teams will require:
- Use of a large room, such as a hall/indoor sports court.
- Hand-washing facilities.
- Tables and chairs for vaccinating teams (8-12 depending on size of school and vaccinating team).
- Chairs or mats for up to one class of students at any one time.
- A liaison member of staff or a designated student to call students from class at the appropriate time for vaccination and return them to class in an orderly way after vaccination.
The HSE also continues to advise those in third-level institutions to attend student health services for MMR vaccine.