Varadkar must reassure worried parents on BCG vaccine – Adams

SF Jennifer & GerryLouth TD Gerry Adams has called on Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and the HSE to reassure parents worried about future supplies of the BCG vaccine which provides protection against tuberculosis (TB).

Teachta Adams said:

“The difficulties in supply of the BCG vaccine have been known by the Department of Health since 2014. Little has been done to identify alternative suppliers, nor indeed to explain the ongoing situation to anxious parents of new-borns.

“Recent responses to questions I asked of Minister Varadkar, show little real commitment to address this matter. HIQA undertook a public consultation on proposed changes to the BCG vaccination programme on 9th September to run for six weeks. At the request of the Department of Health, HIQA has evaluated changes to the infant BCG vaccination programme proposed by the National Immunisation and National TB Advisory Committees.

“While I acknowledge HIQA’s assessment will be formed based on available evidence, I note that parents’ concerns are going unheard by the Minister. Minister Varadkar admits that no vaccine is expected for months to come.

“Recent media reports give rise to more fears among parents that the BCG vaccine may be withdrawn save for selected persons. HIQA’s draft assessment itself notes that universal vaccination is not “cost-effective”.

“The Minister, his Department and the HSE need urgently to engage with and reassure parents that they are actively seeking to secure alternative quantities of the vaccine and explain what their future plans are for the administration of the BCG vaccine.”

Concerns about the BCG Vaccine availability was raised with Mr Adams when Louth Sinn Féin Councillor Jennifer Green was told her baby would not be able to avail of the vaccine until much later than recommended due to the supply issue. Cllr Green has since given birth to a baby girl.

Adams raises BCG Vaccine concerns with Minister

SF Jennifer & GerrySinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams has expressed his “serious concern at the failure of the Department of Health to make adequate provision for a supply of the BCG vaccine which provides effective protection against tuberculosis (TB).”

The Louth TD raised this issue with the Minister after Louth County Councillor Jennifer Green who “is due to give birth in three weeks informed me that she had been told that her baby would not be getting the BCG shortly after birth, as recommended by the HSE. Councillor Green and other expectant mothers she has spoken to is worried by this.”

In a PQ response to the Louth TD the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar detailed difficulties that have arisen with the Danish supplier for the vaccine for the HSE. According to the Minister the supplier “has been supplying BCG vaccine with significant delays due to issues in their production. The last shipment of BCG vaccine due to arrive at the end of October 2014 arrived at the end of December 2014. The delay in delivery meant that two months shelf life was lost and this expired at the end of April 2015. The HSE had sufficient BCG vaccine in Ireland until it expired at the end of April 2015.”

The Minister also revealed that “delivery of BCG vaccine produced in 2014 was suspended pending an extensive investigation regarding possible problems with the capping of the vials.”

This issue has now been resolved but this has added to the delay in production of new batches of the vaccine.

The conclusion of all of this, according to Minister Varadkar, is “that production of new product will not commence until August 2015 and due to a lengthy analysis and release procedure, vaccine from this production will not become available until the end of 2015 or beginning of 2016…The supplier does not expect that the delivery situation will be resolved until the first quarter of 2016 at the earliest.”

Gerry Adams said:

“The difficulties in supply of the BCG vaccine have been known by the Department of Health since last year. Despite this it has failed to identify an alternative supplier to provide vaccine in the short term until the Danish company sorts issues in their production.

“As a result at least 50,000 babies, and potentially many more, will not receive their BCG when appropriate. This is a matter of real concern given the dangers posed to humans from TB.

“Many grandparents will remember the time when to have TB was a life threatening experience which required long periods of isolation and convalescence. The development of the BCG vaccine (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) in France at the beginning of the last century provided an effective inoculation against this disease and consequently there has been a sustained decline in cases.

“This state has one of the lowest incidences in Europe. Last year there were 328 cases of TB.

“Notwithstanding this there can be no room for complacency. TB is a serious illness. 1,000 people develop it each day across Europe and it kills one and a half million people every year around the world.

“The Minister and Department of Health need to reassure the public that they are making every effort to secure alternative quantities of the vaccine and that when the Department and HSE procure a vaccine supply that measures will be put in place speedily to ensure that babies are vaccinated”.