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MMR catch-up programme for students being explored

The Health Service Executive has said it is currently exploring options for a catch-up MMR vaccine programme for Leaving Cert and third-level students.

It comes as Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said there is a high probability of a measles outbreak in Ireland among unvaccinated groups.

A recent Irish study has also estimated that more than one in ten (11%) adults aged 18-34 are non-immune to measles.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Donnelly said that a catch-up programme has been launched for children up to ten years of age to get the MMR vaccine, which is the only protection against measles.

He said the programme would be free of charge at participating GPs and described the MMR vaccine as effective and safe.

The issue has been monitored over the past nine months prompted by an increase in cases around Europe. There has been an increasing number of measles in both European Union countries and in England recently, including in Romania where a number of fatalities were reported.

Mr Donnelly said there was a “significant risk” of a rise in cases here due to the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK. He added that the HSE has carried out a risk assessment in response.

“What we’re finding is that about one in five young men – 18, 19, 20 21 years of age – are unvaccinated,” Mr Donnelly told RTÉ’s News at One.

“That does put them at risk and potentially puts those around them at risk if there is an outbreak.”

He added: “The population level is nearly 90% (vaccinated). The WHO target is 95%.

“What we’re seeing is a variance [in vaccination levels] around the country, in places like Louth and Meath, for example, it’s down as low as 80%.

“I was discussing this with the Chief Medical Officer just this morning. She’s particularly concerned about parts of the country where the vaccination rate is much lower,” Mr Donnelly said.

Read more:
Why there is renewed concern about measles in Ireland

TUS Athlone urges students to check vaccine status

A nurse at the student health centre in TUS Athlone said they are not aware of any cases of measles on campus but they are vigilant and are starting an awareness campaign so students know the signs and symptoms.

Laura Tully said: “We work with young people predominantly aged 18 to 34 and we know now that 11% of those are non-immune.

“So we will be putting a plan in place now immediately to raise awareness to combat any outbreak of measles and we certainly be looking to work with our colleagues across the HSE to make sure that anyone who isn’t vaccinated is offered a vaccine.”

Laura Tully is urging students to check their vaccine status and find out if they have had two doses of MMR

Ms Tully said they are prepared to help roll out any vaccine plan as quickly as possible.

“The model is there. We’ve worked with our partners across the HSE for campaigns like the Covid vaccine, HPV recently.

“So the model is there. Student health professionals around the country are ready to go.

“We’d work hard to make this a reality and I think we could do it in a very swift timeframe.”

She is also urging students to check their vaccine status and find out if they have had two doses of MMR, adding that it is the only protection against measles.

As someone who has first-hand experience of measles in her family, she believes it is “hugely important” to ensure children are vaccinated.

She said: “Unfortunately 13 years ago, my own daughter just before her first birthday contracted measles just before she was due to get her vaccine.

“It was a nasty dose. Thankfully she recovered well, but it’s not an infection that I would wish on any young child or anybody who’s vulnerable.

“The MMR is offered to us and if your only protection against measles, mumps and rubella.”

Additional reporting Gail Conway

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