Thursday 17 January 2019

Parents face €280 bill to get jab for meningitis

HSE urged to give all children free B vaccine to combat deadly strain

Don’t delay: Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE urged parents of babies who are eligible to avail of the vaccines for meningitis. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Don’t delay: Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE urged parents of babies who are eligible to avail of the vaccines for meningitis. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Thousands of parents whose children missed out on a free vaccine to combat against the deadly B strain of meningitis will have to pay €280 to get the jab privately.

The death of three people from killer strains of meningitis in the past two weeks, after a spike in cases of the lethal bug, has led to calls on parents to be at heightened alert for symptoms.

However, the HSE roll out of the vaccine to protect against the B strain of meningitis only began in 2016 and it just applies to babies born since October that year.

Older children lost out and the HSE decided not to provide a catch up.

GPs reported they were inundated by calls from anxious parents yesterday inquiring about the how they could get the vaccine against this strain, but were shocked at the cost.

Pharmacist and Fianna Fáil spokesman on primary care John Brassil said it is time for the HSE to consider making it available free to older children.

"It was a welcome development in 2016 when the lifesaving meningitis B vaccine was made available free of charge for infants up to the age of 12 months," he said.

"However, for other children there is a cost of some €280 for the two shots required.

"For a family with several children such a cost could be prohibitive. It could also be life threatening.

"We need to examine what we can do to make it free for all children.

"The HSE must urgently consider providing it free to children in areas at risk."

The HSE said yesterday it does not decide on policy.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee, made up of experts in a number of specialties, make recommendations on vaccines.

HSE public health specialist Dr Kevin Kelleher urged parents whose babies are eligible for free vaccines to protect against various strains of meningitis to avail of the jab.

There has been a fall-off in the take-up of the vaccine.

A vaccine that protects against the C strain is given at six months and at 13 months.

The vaccine against the B strain is given at two, four and 12 months of age.

Adolescents are routinely offered the meningitis C vaccine in the first year of secondary school.

Older teenagers and young adults up to the age of 23 who never received a meningitis C vaccine are recommended to get the vaccine.

Dr Kelleher said immediate medical attention is needed if someone displays symptoms.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said meningitis cases have been reported in Dublin and other regions.

The HSE declined to say what counties are affected on the grounds of patient confidentiality.

Those affected range from infants to the elderly.

Diane McConnell, regional director of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said anyone with questions or concerns can call the helpline at 1800 41 33 44.

Siobhan Carroll, chief executive of ACT for Meningitis, said anyone who wants to speak to its family support officer can call 091 380058.

Irish Independent

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