Infants to get free meningitis B vaccine
A price deal has been struck with the makers of a vaccine that protects against the deadly B strain of meningitis, paving the way for its free roll-out to infants.
The HSE signalled its intention to provide the vaccine to children this year, but the roll-out had been delayed until a cost-effective price could be agreed.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish Independent last night that agreement had now been reached with manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline to give the vaccine free to infants at two months, four months and 13 months.
He said:"This is a really positive development.
"It means that Ireland will be the second country in Europe to provide this vaccine free of charge.
"After good nutrition and healthy lifestyles, vaccines are proven to be the most effective way to prevent disease, disability and death."
The vaccine is scheduled to be introduced to the childhood immunisation programme later this year - but a spokesman for the Department of Health said efforts will be made to roll it out sooner.
The B strain is an aggressive form of meningitis, which, if untreated, can cause brain damage and be fatal. Ireland still has a high rate of meningitis B, which peaked in 1999.
Since then the annual incidence rates have declined from 8.1 cases per 100,000 to 1.13 per 100,000.
It strikes around 100 people a year and children under five are at particular risk.
The vaccine was introduced last year in the UK but a campaign is now under way there to extend it to children under 11 years of age.
This is because many who lose out on the early-years jabs will still be at risk.
Similar pressure is expected to be exerted on the health service here by parents who otherwise would have to pay to get the vaccine privately.
It costs around €280 to get the vaccine privately for children. The cost can be as high as €420 for infants.
The minister said he also planned to introduce a vaccine to protect against rotavirus.
"This is next on the agenda," he said.
Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhoea and sickness in young children. It is also highly infectious.
Meanwhile, the minister confirmed that the Department of Health and the HSE have also reached agreement to allow women to obtain long-acting contraception from their GP. They currently have to attend an outpatients clinic in order to obtain this form of contraception, which is inserted into the arm.
It will be more convenient for patients to obtain long-acting contraception from a GP than from a hospital.
This agreement was reached with the IMO under the revised 'special items of service', which aims to encourage more services to be provided in the primary care setting. This also includes increased rates of payment for applying stitches to patients and bladder catheterisation, "reflecting the costs and time associated with these services, and the introduction of a 24-hour blood pressure monitoring service by GPs".