New vac­cine plan to fight killer strain of menin­gi­tis

HSE also seeks funds to halt gen­i­tal dis­ease in school boys

Irish Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Eil­ish O’Re­gan Health Cor­re­spon­dent

THE HSE plans to of­fer young chil­dren a free vac­cine against the deadly menin­gi­tis B strain, if the Coali­tion pro­vides the money, the Irish In­de­pen­dent can re­veal.

The HSE is ask­ing the Govern­ment to pay for the roll-out of the vac­cine along with another jab to pro­tect chil­dren from the ro­tavirus, a com­mon cause of di­ar­rhoea and sick­ness.

But the HSE warns that pa­tients could face drug ra­tioning un­less ad­di­tional fund­ing is al­lo­cated next year. The HSE says that with­out ex­tra fund­ing for cancer drugs it risks be­ing un­able to pre­scribe ex­pen­sive medicines to com­bat the dis­ease.

The fund­ing pro­pos­als are con­tained in the HSE’s list of fi­nan­cial de­mands – amount­ing to nearly €2bn – for the health ser­vice for 2016, as re­vealed in the Irish In­de­pen­dent yes­ter­day.

Chil­dren un­der five and young adults are most at risk from menin­gi­tis B.

The strain kills more chil­dren un­der five than any other in­fec­tious dis­ease. One in 10 of those who con­tract the dis­ease will die and one in five sur­vivors are left with life-chang­ing dis­abil­i­ties, in­clud­ing limb am­pu­ta­tion, brain dam­age and deaf­ness.

The HSE is also propos­ing to of­fer ado­les­cent boys the HPV vac­cine, cur­rently given to sec­ondary-school girls to re­duce their risk of cer­vi­cal cancer.

The HPV virus is very com­mon and is eas­ily spread through sex­ual ac­tiv­ity.

CHIL­DREN are to be of­fered a free vac­cine against the deadly menin­gi­tis B strain next year as part of a €17.9m fund­ing plan by the HSE.

The vac­cine to pro­tect against the killer strain can be given in the course of three jabs, and re­duces the risk of need­less death and dis­abil­ity in chil­dren.

HSE chief Tony O’Brien is ask­ing the Govern­ment to fund the roll-out of the vac­cine along with another jab to pro­tect chil­dren from the ro­tavirus, a com­mon cause of di­ar­rhoea and sick­ness.

How­ever, it will cost in the re­gion of €17.9m to pro­vide both vac­cines to around 70,000 chil­dren next year, ac­cord­ing to the HSE’s sub­mis­sion to Govern­ment in prepa­ra­tion for the 2016 Es­ti­mates.

It is con­tained in its list of fi­nan­cial de­mands – amount­ing to nearly €2bn – for the health ser­vice for 2016, first re­vealed in the Irish In­de­pen­dent.

The menin­gi­tis jab has al­ready been given the go-ahead in the UK.

It is be­ing of­fered on the NHS for in­fants aged two months, fol­lowed by a sec­ond dose at four months and a booster at 12 months.

But the health ser­vice bud­get here could not af­ford to pro­vide it as part of the reg­u­lar sched­ule of vac­cines, de­spite Ire­land hav­ing the high­est in­ci­dence of menin­gi­tis B in Europe.

Con­tro­ver­sially, the HSE is also propos­ing to of­fer ado­les­cent boys the HPV vac­cine, cur­rently given to sec­ondary school girls to re­duce their risk of cer­vi­cal cancer.

The HPV virus is very com­mon and is eas­ily spread through sex­ual ac­tiv­ity. The vac­cine pro­tects against two types of HPV which are re­spon­si­ble for most cases of cer­vi­cal cancer in women.

Ex­tend­ing the HPV vac­cine pro­gramme for boys would cost around €700,000 and would pro­tect them from two strains of HPV which are re­spon­si­ble for 90pc of gen­i­tal warts.

How­ever, it could lead to crit­i­cism of the use of scarce tax­payer’s money. The sub­mis­sion says it could also be of­fered to at-risk groups such as gay men to re­duce risk of cer­tain can­cers.

Mean­while, the doc­u­ment warns that pa­tients could face drug ra­tioning un­less another €18.5m in fund­ing is al­lo­cated next year.

The HSE said that with­out the ex­tra €18.5m in fund­ing for cancer drugs, there is a risk it may not be able to pro­vide ex­pen­sive newly pre­scribed medicines to fight the dis­ease.

There will be a growth in the cost of ex­ist­ing drugs. “The ser­vice im­pact of not fund­ing would be the in­abil­ity to meet de­mand,” said the HSE.

The health ser­vice now faces de­mands an­nu­ally to fund a new gen­er­a­tion of cancer drugs which are get­ting ap­proval by agen­cies – but can cost thou­sands of euro per treat­ment for des­per­ate pa­tients.

The HSE has to bat­tle with drug com­pa­nies to ne­go­ti­ate a price while anx­ious pa­tients plead for the treat­ments.

Re­fer­ring to drugs costs gen­er­ally, the sub­mis­sion said there is a gen­eral price freeze in place in re­la­tion to ex­ist­ing drugs. But there is an in­creas­ing trend by com­pa­nies to tell the HSE it is no longer eco­nom­i­cally vi­able for them to sup­ply niche prod­ucts un­less there is a price in­crease.

The key driv­ers in the drugs bill are the vol­ume of medicines pre­scribed and the cost of new ad­vanced medicines which are be­com­ing avail­able.

Over­all, the HSE has es­ti­mated that an ad­di­tional €597m is needed to im­prove ser­vices.

In or­der to keep ser­vice go­ing it needs around €1.4bn.

The Govern­ment will be un­der pres­sure as the elec­tion looms to in­crease fund­ing for the health ser­vice but it is un­likely to stretch to the €1.9bn set out in the sub­mis­sion which was sent ear­lier this month.

Tony O’Brien: wants vac­cines rolled out at cost of €18m

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