Thousands of children are left vulnerable to meningitis because their parents are not availing of free vaccines offered to all babies, it emerged yesterday.
Figures for the uptake of infant jabs to protect against 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 lethal 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.
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 Maitiu O Tuathail, president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), which works 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 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.
"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.
The meningitis C vaccine was introduced in Ireland in October 2000 into the infant immunisation schedule at two, four and six months.
A catch-up programme was also launched at the time, offering the vaccine to everyone up to and including 22 years of age.
The vaccine has been shown to be safe and is effective. It produces an immune response in young infants and gives long-term immunity against group C meningococcal disease.
Prior to the introduction of the MenC vaccine to Ireland, group C accounted for 30-40pc of the meningococcal disease cases each year.
Since 2014, an increase in meningococcal disease caused by C has occurred.
In 2013, just one case was reported but six cases were reported in 2014 and each year since then increasing numbers of C disease have been reported.
In 2018, of the 89 cases reported, 19 were caused by serogroup C, according to the latest statistics.