Friday 19 October 2018

BCG may no longer be a routine vaccine for children - HSE

BCG stocks expired in Ireland in April 2015.
BCG stocks expired in Ireland in April 2015.

Emmet Bellew and Margaret Donnelly

Children may not be routinely given the TB vaccine BCG, if recommendations by two expert groups are taken on board by the Department of Health, the HSE has said.

It comes as the Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that the BCG vaccine stock in all areas expired at the end of April 2015 and the HSE continues to experience ongoing delays with the supply of BCG vaccine.

BCG vaccine is given to protect babies against tuberculosis (TB) and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), an independent expert group on immunisation and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) have both recommended that BCG vaccine does not now need to be given routinely to all babies in Ireland.

The BCG vaccine is given at birth in Ireland, but most European countries do not give a BCG vaccine to all babies, according to the HSE, which confirmed that the vaccine shortage is a Europe wide issue.

The number of cases of TB has been steadily falling in Ireland, it says, and a decision on BCG policy will be made by the Department of Health and based on recommendations received from the NIAC and HIQA, when BCG vaccine is back in stock.

Ireland has had no BCG vaccine since May 2015 and no children have been vaccinated since then, the HSE confirmed.

However, Fianna Fail's Jack Chambers said it was unclear whether the HSE is looking at removing the vaccine as routine due to the limited availability of supplies or medical evidence around its necessity.

Chambers said that European countries where it is not routinely administered do supply it for vulnerable people, including those who are immuno compromised.

"It is unknown why the vaccine is not available. There has been an increase in demand from developing countries, but there is more than one company that makes the vaccine.

"I'm not sure how proactive the HSE has been in following its immunisation schedule, but supply and demand should not determine public health policy."

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture has said there is “no link” between the spread of wild deer into south Kerry and the biggest outbreak of bovine TB in living memory in the area.

Dozens of farms are in lockdown and around 360 cattle have been removed from slaughter in an area between Kells and Caherdaniel in Iveragh, and investigations and are contintuing.

The farmers are hoping a trial vaccination programme will be used in the area to combat the spread of TB.

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