Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): I thank Senator Conway for raising the Adjournment matter as it provides me with an opportunity to update the House.
Neisseria meningitidis is a major cause of invasive meningococcal disease, commonly known as meningitis. In 2013, 81 cases of invasive meningococcal disease were notified in Ireland, with serogroup B (commonly referred to as Meningitis B) accounting for 68 of these cases. This represents a decline of 77% from the peak in 1999 when 292 cases of Meningitis B were notified. Despite this significant improvement, Ireland has the highest incidence of meningococcal disease, particularly Meningitis B, among EU countries.
Since 1999, the majority of cases occur in children less than 2 years of age (51%). The highest age specific incidence rate for Meningitis B cases is seen in young children (less than 4 years of age), particularly those in the first year of life. In 2013, the age specific incidence rate was 35.9 per 100,000 for children less than a year old, with another smaller peak seen the older teenagers. Low rates are normally seen in those older than 25 years of age.
As the House will be aware, the immunisation programme in Ireland is based on the advice of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC). NIAC is a committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland comprising of experts in a number of specialties including infectious diseases, paediatrics and public health. The committee's recommendations are informed by evidence based public health advice, international best practice and cost benefit analysis carried out by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics.
In January 2013, a new vaccine against invasive meningococcal disease serogroup B received marketing authorisation from the European Commission. NIAC is monitoring international data regarding the use of this vaccine as part of immunisation programmes. The Committee has recently issued guidance relating to its use in the control of clusters or outbreaks Meningitis B. However to date, it has made no recommendation in relation to the introduction of Meningococcal B vaccination into the primary childhood immunisation schedule in this country.
Meningococcal B vaccine was discussed at the NIAC meeting on March 24th, 2014. The decision whether or not to recommend the inclusion of the vaccine into the primary immunisation programme raises complex issues that require thoughtful consideration. New information concerning this issue, including revised parameters for assessment used recently by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation in the UK, are being taken into account.
I am sure that the House will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any anticipated outcomes of the deliberations of NIAC. However, should NIAC advise the inclusion of a new Meningococcal B vaccine into the primary childhood vaccination programme in Ireland, the Department, in association with the Health Service Executive's National Immunisation Office will then examine and address the matter.