Belfast Telegraph

Harris ‘keeping open mind’ over mandatory vaccinations for children

The Health Minister has launched the Vaccine Alliance aimed at boosting the uptake of childhood vaccines.

Simon Harris (Michelle Devane/PA)
Simon Harris (Michelle Devane/PA)
(Gareth Fuller/PA)

By Aine McMahon, PA

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he is keeping “an open mind” over mandatory vaccinations for children.

Cases of mumps and measles are on the rise in Ireland as some parents are not getting their children vaccinated.

Latest figures from the Department of Health show there were 1,682 cases of mumps reported up to the end of August this year, compared with 576 for the whole of 2018.

The were 55 cases of measles by the end of August, compared with 76 for all of 2018.

bpanews_c39557b7-822d-4373-b2cd-e9a9f20eefdb_embedded242533561
Simon Harris (Michelle Devane/PA)

Mr Harris launched the Vaccine Alliance on Tuesday aimed at boosting the uptake of childhood vaccines.

Asked if he would introduce mandatory vaccination for children and ban unvaccinated youngsters from school, he said: “I do have a very open mind in relation to the issue of mandatory vaccines. I see this as something that is being raised in lots of other countries and Ireland needs to be part of that debate.

“It does not sit well with me that you would send your child to a creche without being vaccinated and knowing that not only are you putting their health at risk but other children’s health too.

“When it comes to schools, children have a constitutional right to education and there are rights that need to be balanced but there is also a public health issue.

We cannot afford to do nothing. We cannot allow the success of our childhood immunisation programme become its enemy Simon Harris

“I have received preliminary advice from the attorney general. It is true there are things we could do in this space but it is constitutionally complex.

“We have asked the Health Research Board to look at other international experience and I am taking the attorney general and the HRB advice in tandem and I’ll make my views known by the end of the year, but I’ve a very open mind on it.

“Vaccination rates across the country are falling and diseases we had consigned to the history books are now making a comeback.

“We cannot afford to do nothing. We cannot allow the success of our childhood immunisation programme become its enemy.

“This alliance will build on the success we have had with the HPV vaccine, where rates increased from 51% to 70% in a short period of time, and it will ensure parents have accurate, evidence-based information about vaccinations.”

Mr Harris said he is concerned about “misinformation and disinformation” on social media surrounding vaccines and that it needs to be tackled.

“We are concerned about the level of disinformation regarding vaccines being spread on social media sites which is why I intend to meet with social media companies to discuss the issue,” he said.

“I have written to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and Google and invited to come to the department for a summit to see what their plan is and to share with us regarding the spread of information.

“Social media sites need to decide what side they are on. Do you want to be on the side of public health or be exploited to spread lies and misinformation?

“We need to talk to people and not at people, and help them to make an informed decision and use reputable websites to get factual, evidence-based information.”

PA

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph