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Meningitis victim's dad demands date for vaccine in Northern Ireland

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 22/06/2015

Former Miss GB Gemma Garrett - a friend of Leeann’s - with Robert and Valerie Hoy
Former Miss GB Gemma Garrett - a friend of Leeann’s - with Robert and Valerie Hoy
Leeann, who tragically died in 2000

A father who lost his daughter to meningitis has called on Health Minister Simon Hamilton to confirm a date when the life-saving vaccine will be introduced to Northern Ireland.

Robert Hoy, whose 22-year-old daughter Leeann died in 2000, said politicians needed to give assurances to the public.

"Northern Ireland has lost loved ones and is still losing children to meningitis, so we have a right to it and we should know when we will get it," he said.

"If we had the chance to have the vaccine, we wouldn't have lost Leeann. I think it's time they pulled their finger out for the people who voted them in."

His call came after it was announced that all newborn babies in England and Scotland would be offered the meningitis B vaccine from September.

It will be given to infants at two months, four months and 12 months old.

The DHSSPS has said it was "determined" to try and source the funding needed to introduce the vaccine in August and September, but campaigners have said a "definitive date" is needed.

Robert's daughter died from septicaemia after contracting meningitis. She had been suffering from flu-like symptoms before she collapsed.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Hoy, from Dundonald, said there were families who were left devastated by the deadly virus every year.

"I would say to Mr Hamilton, 'Why don't you put my shoes on for a week and be in my place and see how much you would want the vaccine in Northern Ireland, rather than families having to sit and worry whether they will get it or not'," he added.

A spokesman from the Department of Health said the minister was working to secure the money.

"Despite the very challenging financial situation, the minister is determined to try to identify the funding necessary to be able to introduce the meningitis ACWY and the meningitis B programmes in August and September, in line with the rest of the UK," he added.

Former Health Minister Jim Wells announced in March the introduction of the potentially life-saving shot into the routine vaccination programme for children. It came following the conclusion of negotiations between the Department of Health in England and manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline to secure the drug at a cost-effective price.

Since 2010, there have been around 25 to 35 cases of meningitis B each year in Northern Ireland. It is responsible for the vast majority of cases of invasive meningococcal disease in the region.

It can additionally lead to septicaemia, also known as blood poisoning, and around one in every 10 such cases is fatal.

UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said it was "vital" that there was no delay in Northern Ireland children getting the vaccine.

"It is essential that Northern Ireland does not fall behind the rest of the UK in receiving this vaccination - meningitis devastates families," she added.

A spokesman from the charity Meningitis Now said: "We appreciate there is a cost to the introduction of these vaccines, but we would urge the Northern Ireland Health Minister to find the resources to implement these programmes from this summer, in line with elsewhere in the UK, and protect the province's newborn babies and students with immediate effect.

"Saving families from the devastation meningitis brings would be a move they could be proud of."

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