Dr Brenda Corcoran
Head of the HSE National Immunisation Office
Some diseases may have been reduced or consigned to history — but if we don’t continue to protect ourselves with vaccinations, they will return with a vengeance.
“Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective health interventions since the introduction of clean water,” says Dr Brenda Corcoran, Head of the HSE National Immunisation Office. “We’re also fortunate in this country that all vaccines recommended for children are provided free of charge; and year on year there have been huge changes to our immunisation programmes.”
Rubella is a devastating disease, but in the last two years the World Health Organization declared Ireland rubella-free.
Just look at the numbers of vaccines now available: a total of nine different vaccines were introduced in Ireland across the whole of the 20th century; whereas 12 have been introduced in the last 17 years alone.
Naturally, all of these — whenever they were introduced — have had a huge, positive impact on the health of the nation. Rubella, for instance, is a devastating disease, but in the last two years the World Health Organization declared Ireland rubella-free.
Then there’s the Men C vaccine, introduced in the year 2000, which has drastically reduced rates of group C meningococcal disease in small babies and young children, to the point where it is rarely seen.
Importance of continued vaccination
Yet these kinds of success stories also generate their own peculiar problems. Because some diseases have been significantly reduced or even consigned to the past (polio, for example), the public forgets about their terrible consequences, “Which means people also forget about the importance of immunisation,” says Corcoran.
If we don’t continue to vaccinate our children these diseases will come back and cause the devastating problems they did in the past
“But the fact is that, if we don’t continue to vaccinate our children — and get uptakes of 95 per cent — these diseases will come back and cause the devastating problems they did in the past.”
Corcoran cites measles as an example, where uptake for MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) is now at 92 per cent and an uptake of 95 per cent has never been reached in Ireland.
“In 1999, unscientific evidence provoked fears that the vaccination caused autism, resulting in the MMR vaccine uptake dropping to 69 per cent,” she says.
“Then, in the year 2000, there was a very large outbreak in the Dublin area, affecting over 1,600 babies and young children, and resulting in three fatalities.
It is a challenge to keep parents up-to-date with the most trusted information, particularly because unscientific opinions are shared on social media.”