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Value of Vaccines 2020

‘Vaccinate against meningitis’ urges bereaved mother in Ireland

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Rob Dawson

Director of Communications, Advocacy and Support, Meningitis Research

In 2012, Mags Cregan-Smart lost a baby to meningitis. Now she’s urging mothers to ensure their children are vaccinated. Sadly, globally, progress against meningitis lags behind other vaccine-preventable diseases.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious illness. Life-threatening bacteria can enter the body and cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining around the brain) and sepsis (an infection that overwhelms the body). These bacteria may live at the back of the throat or nose, often unnoticed, and can spread to others through coughing or close personal contact. The risk of infection is highest in winter.

In recent years, up to 200 annual cases of bacterial meningitis and associated sepsis have been reported to the Irish Health Protection Surveillance Centre, although experts estimate that the total number of cases may be considerably higher. These cases most commonly occur in children under five, but any age can be affected.

Of the people who do get bacterial meningitis, around one in 10 will die, and more than two in 10 of those who survive will have significant impairment, such as deafness, brain damage or loss of limbs (amputations may be required due to associated sepsis). 

Meningitis can strike quickly, killing a child in less than 24 hours. As it requires such rapid medical attention, preventing meningitis is better than relying on treating it in time.

Preventing meningitis 

A range of different bacteria can cause meningitis. However, there are safe and effective vaccines available that protect against common causes of life-threatening bacterial meningitis. Babies from two to 13 months are given these vaccines in Ireland, as part of their routine immunisations. From September 2019, when a child is in first year of secondary school, they now also get the MenACWY vaccine. This vaccine protects a child against infection from four types of bacteria known as meningococcal group A, C, W and Y.

Meningitis can strike quickly, killing a child in less than 24 hours. As it requires such rapid medical attention, preventing meningitis is better than relying on treating it in time.

While most people ensure they have their vaccines, some people still miss out.

This can be for three main reasons:  

  • Complacency: because vaccines are so effective and diseases are now less visible, some people question whether they are still necessary, even though diseases would resurge without them.
  • Convenience: it may be difficult for some people to attend vaccine appointments.
  • Confidence: some people require additional reassurance from a health professional before being vaccinated. 

At Meningitis Research Foundation, we work with families affected by meningitis to help address these issues and encourage everyone to get these vital vaccines. 

A mother’s plea

Mags Cregan-Smart, from Wexford, has been raising funds and awareness to defeat meningitis, following the heart-breaking death of her baby Ruairí Smart, in 2012, at just six months old. She is encouraging everyone to get the vaccines available to them.

Mags says: “Ruairí brought us great joy and his death was very sudden. Meningitis strikes without warning, and there is so little time to get the rapid medical care needed. That’s why vaccination is so important: to stop meningitis before it happens. Vaccines can’t prevent all meningitis, but there are several vaccines available which save lives. Ruairí, like his brother Micheál, shared his name with a king of Ireland, and he will always be king of our hearts.”

The call from parents like Mags has led to Meningitis Research Foundation, a charity that supports families in the UK and Ireland, to drive forward a global plan to defeat meningitis. The global plan is due to be launched by the World Health Organization this year. It aims to dramatically reduce preventable deaths for meningitis, while ensuring there is more support available for anyone affected. 

More information is available at

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