Other Questions. - Vaccination Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

24 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children the current percentage uptake on MMR vaccination, broken down on a county by county basis and in the Dublin region by community care area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14533/00]

I have arranged for the circulation in the Official Report of a tabular statement containing information provided by the health boards on the percentage uptake of MMR vaccination, broken down, where possible, on a county by county basis and, in the Dublin region, by community care area. In some health board areas the community care areas cover more than one county and in these cases it is not possible to produce a separate uptake figure for each county.

My Department recently wrote to the health boards, stressing the importance of achieving high immunisation rates to prevent the further transmission of measles infection. I take this opportunity to strongly urge parents in all areas to ensure that their children receive the MMR vaccine, which is available free of charge from their family doctor. This will ensure that individual children and the population generally have maximum protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

In relation to concerns which some parents may have about the MMR vaccine, the available evidence about this vaccine has been examined and the advice of the National Immunisation Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has been sought by my Department. All the expert advice available to me is that the MMR vaccine is safe and effective and that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and either chronic inflammatory bowel disease or autism. This is supported by a number of well-validated studies on this issue.

Recent media reports on this issue relate to an alleged association between measles and autism. However, the research concerned has not been published and so independent experts, in Ireland and elsewhere, have been unable to examine the evidence for the statements which have reportedly been made.

Uptake rates of MMR vaccination:

Eastern Regional Health Authority

Community care area 1

81%

Community care area 2

74%

Community care area 3

77%

Community care area 4

70%

Community care area 5

69%

Community care area 6

72%

Community care area 7

68%

Community care area 8

80%

County Kildare

75%

County Wicklow

84%

Midland Health Board

Laois/Offaly

72%

Longford/Westmeath

68%

Mid-Western Health Board

Clare

70%

Limerick

71%

North Tipperary/east Limerick

76%

North Eastern Health Board

Cavan

84%

Monaghan

83%

Louth

74%

Meath

75%

North Western Health Board

Donegal

78%

Sligo/Leitrim

80%

South Eastern Health Board

Carlow

84%

Kilkenny

86%

South Tipperary

90%

Waterford

89%

Wexford

86%

Southern Health Board

Cork

72%

Kerry

76%

Western Health Board

Galway

79%

Mayo

80%

Roscommon

82%

Does the Minister accept it is scandalous that there was a recent epidemic of measles in Ireland which is a highly developed wealthy country? A child has already died as a consequence of measles, which is totally unacceptable. It is the Minister's responsibility to do something effective now to ensure that the rate of take up of the MMR vaccine is at a correct level. Obviously, it is not at that level at present.

The Minister must be conscious that the system is not working at public health nurse or GP level. An insufficient number of babies are being protected against a disease which is potentially fatal. It can cause damage to children for the rest of their lives. Responsibility ultimately lies with the Minister and his Department. What will they do to prevent this type of epidemic ever happening again?

Everybody has a responsibility in this. The Minister has a particular responsibility but parents also have a responsibility. Unfortunately, the figures are of considerable concern—

They are a disgrace.

—not only in Dublin, but throughout the country. In relation to the cases which emerged, particularly in the Dublin region where there has been an epidemic of sorts and an increase in the incidence of the disease—

It is an epidemic.

I do not need to be lectured by the Deputy on this matter. I know there is a major problem in the Dublin area.

The Minister should allow for that.

I also know there is a major issue in terms of the uptake of the MMR vaccination. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that there is a certain degree of complacency because we managed to wipe out many of these diseases and people do not remember the bad days in relation to measles and rubella. There are also fears in this area, to which I referred earlier. This has had an impact on the rate of take up of the MMR vaccine.

What is the Minister doing about it?

We have already started a number of campaigns in relation to the uptake of the vaccine. There has been a considerable increase of momentum in the ERHA area in terms of visiting schools and targeting areas where the uptake rate is particularly low to ensure there is a catch up programme. The age at which children are immunised has also been reduced from 15 months to six months in areas where the uptake rate is particularly low in Dublin. We are working flat out on this issue to try to improve the uptake rates. However, this problem did not begin recently. It has been a trend over several years and we are most concerned about it.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.