School-based vaccination programmes planned for Meath in September deferred

Tadhg Carey

School-based vaccination programmes due to commence in Meath and neigbouring counties in September have been deferred, it has emerged.

Laois/Offaly Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley raised the issue in the Dáil last week, highlighting that although the programme had been delayed nationally in March due to the pandemic, it had now been deferred again in the HSE's CHO area 8, covering Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Meath and Louth.

Under the HSE School Immunisation Programme, junior infant students are offered a booster to protect against diphtheria, polio, tetanus and whooping cough, and a second dose of the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella.

In addition HSE offers first-year second-level students a vaccine against the HPV (Human Papillomavirus), to protect against almost all cases of cervical cancer.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday last, Minister of State at the Department of Health Frankie Feighan confirmed that the schools-based immunisation programmes, which were scheduled to begin in September 2020, were deferred in the six counties in the region.

He said: “This was due to staff being redeployed to support testing, contact tracing, and the public health departments.”

However, he confirmed that the HSE has reviewed the situation and “it is intended that the schools-based immunisation programme will resume in the coming weeks”.

He added that those who are targeted for school immunisation in 2020 and 2021 will have their necessary vaccinations fully completed by summer 2021.

Earlier, raising the issue in the Dáil, Deputy Stanley said he accepted that the school-based immunisation programme had been deferred during the first lockdown, involving school closures, as public health nurses were redeployed to carry out other Covid-19 related work.

However, he said currently, the front-line community nurses are available to proceed with the programme, and he understood there is a plentiful supply of the vaccine for all the required immunisations for schoolgoing children, both in primary and secondary school.

He said he understood the programme was continuing elsewhere in the country.

Minister Feighan also clarified that to address the issue of school student missing out on vaccines during the first lockdown, clinics were provided for the outstanding immunisations to school-aged children in over the summer months.

Children who were unable to attend the catch-up clinics were offered additional chances to receive the immunisations in the academic year 2020 to 2021.

The HSE, in a statement, said that in CHO 8:

“Vaccinations that would have ordinarily been delivered in March to June 2020 were delivered via a ‘catch-up’ vaccination programme from July to October 2020.

All children and teens due a vaccination as per the national schedule of immunisations were offered an appointment between July and October 2020 and immunisations were delivered for those who opted into the programme.

Regarding the School Immunisation Programme 2020-2021, the multidisciplinary SIP team are currently engaging and planning for delivery.

This will represent a deferred delivery but with guaranteed replication of the 2019-2020 ‘catch up’ programme.

All relevant risk assessments have been completed with recognition of the need to resume service in the soonest possible manner.”

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