Meningitis vaccine move hailed as we fall in line with rest of UK
A life-saving meningitis vaccination programme will be launched in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK, the Health Minister has confirmed.
Simon Hamilton announced that all babies, teenagers and university freshers will be offered the new meningitis vaccine from September.
The news has been welcomed by campaigners who have described it as a move that will "start to save lives straight away". The announcement comes more than a week after it was confirmed the jab would be given in England and Scotland.
It addresses concerns that the province would be "left behind" other parts of the UK administrating the immunisation programme. From September it will be given to infants at two months, four months and 12 months old and teenagers aged between 14 to 18.
University freshers will also be included and those up to 25 years old will receive the Men ACWY vaccine.
Mr Hamiliton yesterday said: "Vaccination is true primary prevention. It is important not only to provide protection for those who are most at risk but also to interrupt the carriage of the disease in the community. I would urge all those who are eligible for the Men ACWY programme to get themselves immunised. By doing so they will be protecting others as well as themselves."
Former Health Minister Jim Wells said he was committed in March to the introduction of the potentially life-saving shot into the routine vaccination programme for children. The Department of Health previously said it was "determined" to try and source the funding needed to introduce the vaccine in August and September, but campaigners said a definitive date was needed.
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. Meningitis Now chief executive Sue Davie welcomed the announcement.
"We're delighted to see that Northern Ireland will be introducing these vaccines from September in line with others across the UK and we thank the Health Minister for helping to protect the province's newborn babies and young people from the devastation meningitis causes - these measures will start to save lives straight away and for years to come," she said.
And she added: "However, even while we celebrate this announcement, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that for many it sadly comes too late.
"While this is good news, it does not mean meningitis is beaten.
"It's vital to learn the signs and symptoms, stay vigilant and seek immediate medical help if you suspect the disease."
The vaccine Bexsero will be offered for babies starting at two months, followed by another dose at four months and a booster dose at one year. The Men ACWY vaccine programme to protect against the four strains of the disease, Meningococcal A, C, W and Y (MenACWY) is aimed at teenagers and older university entrants. Meningococcal meningitis, infection and inflammation of the brain's lining, and meningococcal septicaemia, or blood poisoning, are both infections caused by the meningococcus bacteria.