Written Answers. - Vaccination Programme.

Dan Neville

Question:

585 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the rates of immunisation of children in each of the health board areas; and the plans, if any, he has to have a level of 100 per cent immunisation. [1820/99]

John Gormley

Question:

599 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to studies that indicate that there are certain dangers associated with vaccination; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1926/99]

John Gormley

Question:

600 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will supply figures for the number of children vaccinated and the ill nesses they were vaccinated for; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1927/99]

John Gormley

Question:

601 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children if there is evidence available to suggest that children who have been vaccinated against certain illnesses are contracting those illnesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1928/99]

John Gormley

Question:

602 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children the percentage of children being vaccinated in this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1929/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 585, 599, 600, 601 and 602 together.

Information provides by the health boards indicates that the immunisation uptake rates for children at two years of age, by health board, at 31 December 1998, are as follows:

Health Board

DPT/HIB/Polio

Number of Children

MMR

Number of children

%

%

Eastern

84

16,104

76

14,559

Midland

79

2,425

68

2,087

Mid-Western

80

3,918

73

3,589

North-Western

79

3,571

77

3,461

North-Western

91

2,496

80

2,199

South-Eastern

89

5,078

86

4,811

Southern

86

6,444

75

5,587

Western

85

3,934

78

3,599

The number of children refers to those born in the calendar year 1996 and who have received the full course of primary immunisations indicated.
The operation of the primary childhood immunisation programme is a matter in the first instance for the individual health boards, who enter into contracts with general practitioners for the delivery of the service. The objective of the programme is to achieve an uptake level of 9 per cent. My Department has established an immunisation advisory group, which is considering a range of issues concerning the operation of the programme, with a view to maximising uptake amongst the target population. Negotiations have also recently been concluded with representatives of public health nurses, who have a crucial role to play in relation to the operation of the programme. I am confident that, with the recent acceptance by public health nurses of a package of measures aimed at resolving a number of difficulties which they had identified, their full co-operation with the operation of the programme will be forthcoming. It is also intended to put in place appropriate structures at regional and local level to ensure the involvement of all the parties to the operation of the programme in the development of strategies to ensure that the target of a 95 per cent uptake is met.
My Department's policy in relation to child hood immunisation is guided by advice of the National Immunisation Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and in accordance with international best practice as enunciated by the World Health Organisation. I am aware that from time to time studies have been published which purport to link immunisation with the development of certain diseases or conditions. However, many of the conclusions drawn have not received international support. To date, scientific scrutiny has not revealed a causal link between immunisation and a range of diseases and disabilities which it has been suggested are linked to receipt of vaccines in childhood. The international consensus is that the benefits of immunisation outweigh possible risks, that the incidence of a range of vaccine-preventable diseases has been greatly reduced, with lower morbidity and mortality, and that this development is directly related to the introduction and implementation of effective vaccination programmes.
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland's publication "Immunisation Guidelines for Ireland" contains detailed information for doctors on immunisation, contraindications to the administration of vaccines and their possible side-effects. General practitioners request parents to give informed consent to their children's immunisation and this would include informing them about benefits, possible contraindications and side-effects which may occur. Observation by general practitioners of the advice given on the contraindications to immunisation in individual cases will also help to minimise the incidence of adverse reactions.
With regard to the possibility of children contracting diseases against which they have been immunised, in general, the immunity conferred by immunisation is of the order of 90-95 per cent. Vaccines produce their protective effect by stimulating the immune system in children to protect against the disease in question. Many vaccines require a number of doses in order to achieve adequate immunity. It is therefore important that where the immunisation schedule specifies that a number of doses of a vaccine are required, parents ensure that their children receive the full course of primary immunisation and also the appropriate booster doses as they become older. If a sufficiently high uptake level, 95 per cent or more is achieved in the population, the level of immunity in the whole population is such that the disease cannot spread.
I would like to emphasise again that the benefits of immunisation greatly outweigh the risks of possible side-effects and I would urge all parents to ensure that their children are immunised to protect them against a range of potentially serious and preventable childhood diseases.