‘Anti-vaxxers’ and parents suspicious of vaccines are putting children at risk, a Cork GP has warned.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently labelled the anti-vaccination movement among the top-ten health threats globally.
Dr Nick Flynn said that people within the movement, and parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated, need to be persuaded that it is the best option.
Children receive a number of vaccinations at 12 months, and again at 24 months, to protect against illnesses, including MMR (measles/mumps/rubella), meningitis, and hepatitis.
The Cork-Kerry area has one of the lowest uptakes in vaccines for children. While Cork GPs said it is not a crisis in Ireland, Dr Flynn said that as many people as possible must be vaccinated.
HSE figures from quarter three in 2018 show that west Cork is the only area where the uptake of the MMR vaccine among two-year-olds is less than 90%.
Meanwhile, the uptake of the meningitis C vaccine in west Cork stood at just 81%, the lowest in the region.
Eleven cases, including one in the Cork-Kerry region, have been notified to the HPSC since the last week in December.
Three people have died from the illness since Christmas Eve 2018.
There were nine confirmed cases in Cork and Kerry in 2018 and 12 in 2017. 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, offering the vaccine to everyone up to, and including, 22 years of age.
Group C meningitis accounted for 30% to 40% of the meningococcal disease cases each year, before the vaccine was introduced in Ireland.
Since 2014, however, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has noted an increase in the disease caused by group C.
In 2013, just one case was reported. However, in 2018, 89 cases were reported, 19 of which were caused by group C. “Vaccine uptake in and around Cork seems to be fairly consistent,” said Dr Flynn.
“However, there does appear to be a bit of a shortfall in West Cork with some vaccines. At the end of the day, it comes down to people having a social responsibility,” he said.
“They have to ensure their own children don’t get sick and, also, that other children, some of whom are vulnerable, are not put at risk. Children with chronic illnesses or immune deficiencies are very vulnerable.
“If there is a measles outbreak and an unvaccinated child gets sick and is admitted to hospital, that child could spread that measles to another child with leukaemia, for example, which would be very dangerous.
“It’s also very unfair. Vaccines are safe and the evidence is there to fully support that. What we find is that if you encounter parents who are unsure or people who are part of the ‘anti-vax’ movement, it’s important to try to get them to see your side.
“Sometimes, using stats and figures doesn’t work. You need to use the narrative to explain the impact an unvaccinated child can have on another who is seriously ill already.
“These illnesses have significant mortality rates, particularly when contracted by people who are already very ill.”