Meningitis B vaccination available in Ringsend

Twins Lacey and Amber McDonald with mum Carla.
Photo: Eoin Meegan.

By Eoin Meegan

Irishtown and Ringsend Primary Care Centre was the venue in January for the launch of the Men B vaccine catch-up programme for the area. The launch was the brainchild of Dr Tony O’Sullivan and his wife Caitriona, the practice nurse in the centre, both of whom feel it is important that young people get vaccinated against this potentially killer disease.

Until now the vaccine wasn’t available to most children born before October 2016, due to the cost being so prohibitive. Thanks to very generous support from the Aviva Stadium Community Fund, Irishtown and Ringsend Primary Care Centre are now able to offer this vaccine free of charge to children within the area who are covered by a full medical card. While every child under six now has a doctor visit card, the child receives a full medical card only if their parents also have one, by virtue of low income.

For any child over 10 months of age, two doses are required (three doses below that age). The supply was industry supported. Dr. O’Sullivan and his team at Ringsend generously administered the vaccines free of charge in the interests of public health, and in Dr. O’Sullivan’s own words, “to give something back to the community.”

He believes getting the vaccine is very important because it is so effective, and he wants to assure people that the vaccine is completely safe and they need have no concerns about their child receiving it. “The vaccine is incredibly effective, and extremely safe,” Dr. O’Sullivan says, “the only danger is if children do not receive the vaccine.”

Dr. Sinead Beirne, a writer and regular on Doctor in the House on Virgin Media One, and also works at the centre is fully behind the vaccine. She added: “We forget just how high the infant mortality rate was before these vaccines were available, but when you look at the statistics you see the mortality rate has come away down on the graph. That tells its own story. Vaccines have revolutionised everything and they save lives. The problem is we can get complacent and think this is the way it always was.” Dr. Beirne said she has three children and she thinks it would be unforgivable not to have them vaccinated.

Recently Dr. O’Sullivan witnessed the peril of meningitis first-hand when the child of a close friend of his contacted it. Thankfully, the child got to Crumlin Hospital in time and has since made a complete recovery, but only because Tony happened to drop into the house on a visit and saw how sick the child was and got it to hospital in time. Not everyone will be so lucky.

Irishtown and Ringsend Primary Care Centre vaccinated 45 children so far this year, the same number as in 2019, and they hope to do another 45 next year. At this year’s launch Lee Sheppard, a pupil at Ringsend College received the jab from Caitriona O’Sullivan and he said it was fine and no one had any cause for alarm. Also in attendance was another recipient family, nine-year-old twins Amber and Lacey McDonald, along with their mum Carla.

Meningococcal meningitis is the most severe form of the disease, with a very rapid onset causing the characteristic non-blanching rash in minutes and death within hours. Children who survive meningococcal disease (meningitis or septicaemia) almost always have a brain injury. The disease affects infants and young children primarily, but has a second peak in secondary school age and young adulthood. In 2009, 58% of meningococcal disease was caused by the B strain, but since the Men C vaccine was introduced some years ago, almost all cases of meningococcal disease are now caused by the B strain.

The vaccine used is Bexsero, which is the first approved vaccine for meningococcal B disease. It has been added to the infant vaccination schedule for all infants born after October 1st 2016, but was not offered as a catch-up programme to older children due to its cost.

Dr. O’ Sullivan believes that ideally all young children should have access to this vaccine. Finally, he would like to thank Aviva Stadium for their generous financial contribution that allowed this to happen.

Men B can strike very quickly and either kill or leave heartbreaking brain damage. Ireland has the highest rate of meningitis B reporting in Europe. Perhaps that statistic alone creates a special urgency for people to have their children vaccinated.