As the Deputy would be aware, the BCG vaccine is given to protect babies against tuberculosis (TB). It is important to note that the number of cases of TB in Ireland is low. Most European countries do not give the BCG vaccine routinely to all babies.
Due to a lack of vaccine from the sole EU supplier, the BCG vaccine has not been available in Ireland since April 2015. The HSE National Immunisation Office and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) have sought an alternative supply of BCG vaccine that meets safety, quality and effectiveness standards that could be used in Ireland. To date no appropriate alternative manufacturer has been found.
I am informed that in 2013, a joint recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and the National TB Advisory Committee proposed moving from a universal neonatal BCG vaccination programme to a selective BCG vaccination programme targeting high risk groups only.
Following this recommendation, the Department of Health requested the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to undertake a Health Technology Assessment. HIQA reported in 2015 noting that selective vaccination is more effective and less costly than universal vaccination.
Given that both reports predate the discontinuation of vaccine supply, the HSE were requested earlier this year to undertake an updated review of the epidemiology of TB in Ireland, considering the public health impact of having no BCG vaccination since April 2015. This review will be used to inform an updated recommendation to my Department regarding the future provision of BCG vaccination in Ireland.