The Public Health Agency (PHA) marked European Immunisation Week (April 22-26) by celebrating the excellent childhood immunisation uptake levels being achieved in Northern Ireland, which are well above the UK average.
Many childhood diseases which were common in Northern Ireland prior to the introduction of vaccination have been dramatically reduced or have disappeared altogether, such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles and several types of meningitis.
It is important however, that people are not complacent. Once a disease ‘disappears’, it is easy to forget how serious it can be and unless children continue to be vaccinated against these deadly infections there is a risk they will return from parts of the world where they are still circulating.
The PHA is therefore highlighting to parents the importance of children getting their immunisations on time and of ensuring they receive all the vaccines they are due.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “In Northern Ireland, thousands of cases of serious illness and many deaths are avoided each year thanks to a highly successful immunisation programme, but there is still a small percentage of children who do not receive full protection. The PHA wishes to promote the core message that immunisation of every child is vital to prevent diseases and protect life.
“Northern Ireland has uptake rates of over 98% for the primary vaccines by two years of age, which is an excellent achievement, but I would urge the small remainder of parents whose children have not received full protection against serious diseases, to do so.
“MMR uptake rates are also very high - just over 96% of children have received it by the age of two and by five years of age, around 97% of children have had one dose of MMR and 92% have had the recommended two doses. This is a great tribute to all the doctors, nurses and administrative staff involved in delivery the programme, but above all it is a tribute to parents who are choosing to do the best thing for their children by protecting them against these serious infections.”
Dr Smithson continued: “As we approach the time of year when many children are travelling on school trips and family holidays, we are again urging parents to protect them against measles by ensuring they have been immunised with two doses of MMR, as measles still occurs in other countries who have not had as high vaccine uptake rates as us.
“Measles is a highly infectious disease which spreads very easily. It’s never too late to get your child immunised with two doses of the MMR vaccine. We cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal. Delaying immunisation puts children at risk.”