Failure to avail of infant jabs leaves children at risk of killer meningitis
Uptake in some areas for the vaccine to protect against lethal strain of the disease remains too low
Thousands of children are left vulnerable to meningitis because their parents are not availing of free vaccines offered to all babies, it has emerged.
Figures for the uptake of infant jabs to protect against the killer meningitis strains B and C show variations across the country.
It comes after three people died from meningitis and 11 have been diagnosed with the bug since Christmas Eve.
A 12th possible case is also being investigated.
The uptake of the vaccine to protect against meningitis C fell to 75pc in north Dublin in recent years, leaving one-in-four babies unprotected.
It has since recovered but is still low at 86pc.
Other areas where uptake of the vaccine is too low include Wicklow, Dublin west and south-west, west Cork and Carlow-Kilkenny.
The take-up of a separate vaccine to protect against the lethal B strain of meningitis is also still too low in Wicklow and Dublin north-west. The meningitis B strain vaccine is only given to children born since October 2016, prompting calls for it to be extended to older age groups as part of a catch-up.
The immunisation figures are compiled by the disease watchdog the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
A study of children admitted to Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin between 2011-2015, who were suffering from vaccine-preventable diseases, found many reasons why children do not receive their scheduled immunisation.
This included illness.
Children are screened for fever, rash and malaise before vaccination, and this may result in planned vaccination being deferred.
Parents may choose not to have their child immunised following the routine schedule because of concerns over the effects of vaccine medications, the findings showed,
Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) who work in north and south Dublin, said some parents may be put off by the unfounded anti-vaccine information on social media.
"GPs would discuss vaccinations at the baby's six-week check," he said.
"Parents can have concerns because of wrong scaremongering about vaccines on social media. There is no science behind it."
He said the pressure on GPs may be another factor.
"We know that 70pc of GPs are not taking on new patients. The GP-to-patient ratio is much higher in the deprived areas," he added.
"I wonder, is access to GPs an issue?"
The HSE has ruled out giving the meningitis B vaccine to older children, saying it mostly affects infants and has not been recommended yet by an expert advisory group for other age groups.