I propose to take Questions Nos. 171, 179 to 181, inclusive, 183 and 190 together.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is an independent committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland which is comprised of experts in a number of specialties, including infectious diseases, paediatrics, and public health, which makes recommendations on vaccination policy in Ireland. Its recommendations are based on the prevalence of the relevant disease in Ireland and international best practice in relation to immunisation. All relevant and appropriate information is taken into account when deciding to make changes to the State's immunisation programmes. NIAC submits its recommendations to my Department for consideration.
On foot of a recommendation by NIAC, the Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule was amended in 2016 to include the introduction of the Meningitis B vaccine for all babies born on or after 1 October 2016. This change to the immunisation schedule took effect from 1 December 2016. The first dose of the vaccine is administered to children when they reach two months of age; a second dose is administered at four months and a third and final dose at twelve months. Meningitis B disease is most common in babies under the age of 1 year old and the timing of the administration of the vaccine under the immunisation programme takes account of this.
All vaccines administered through the Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule are provided free of charge. Ireland is the second country in Europe to make the Men B vaccine available free of charge as part of its national immunisation programme. A vaccine that protects against meningococcal C disease (Men C vaccine) is given at 6 months and at 13. It should also be noted that adolescents are routinely offered the Men C vaccine in the first year of secondary school. Parents are strongly advised to ensure that their children are immunised according to the vaccination programme. Other vaccines that protect against other forms of meningitis and septicaemia are included in the routine child vaccination programme (Hib vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV)).
There are no plans to introduce a catch-up programme for the Men B vaccine to older children. Those who have a medical card are eligible to have the vaccine administered by their GP free of charge. However, the purchase of the vaccine is not covered by the medical card scheme.
Eleven cases of meningococcal disease have been notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) since the last week in December. Three deaths were among these cases. This is due to an increase in incidents of meningococcal disease over the last two weeks. The eleven cases notified compares to 5 cases for the same time period last year. In 2018 a total of 89 meningococcal cases were notified compared to 76 in 2017. Provisional data on the strain types identified indicate that different strains of the organism are circulating. All age groups have been affected, ranging from infants to the elderly. Two of the 11 cases notified were related to the Meningitis B but none of the three deaths have been attributed to this strain of the disease.
Members of the public are advised that, if they (including those already vaccinated) have any concerns or are showing symptoms, they should contact their GP in the first instance and ensure that medical expertise is sought.