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Dublin: 3 °C Wednesday 13 November, 2019
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Column: I lost my daughter to meningitis – why is a vaccine for MenB still not provided?

We have a vaccine for a common strain of meningitis, yet it’s not on from the immunisation schedule. What is the delay? asks Siobhán Carroll.

Siobhán Carroll

AS A MOTHER who lost my daughter Aoibhe to meningitis when she was just four years old, I found myself deeply saddened to hear that two families in Co Cavan are now experiencing the shock and fear that comes with hearing that your child has contracted the life-threatening disease.

However, my sadness quickly turned to disappointment when I heard that these two children from one crèche contracted a strain of the disease known as MenB that can be prevented by a vaccine. Unfortunately, the Government have not yet added this vaccine to the immunisation schedule despite it being licensed for use in Europe for over a year. As a parent who lost my own daughter to meningitis, and as CEO of ACT for Meningitis, I have to ask the question: what is the delay?

We need this vaccine introduced now, time is of the essence. Luckily these children are understood to be responding well to treatment as the signs and symptoms where noticed early, but that isn’t always enough. I work every day with families affected by the disease and I personally know the struggle a parent feels when you cannot help your child. I find it incredible to believe that the Government would drag its heels when there is vaccine to prevent families going through the devastation that my family, and the families that ACT supports, deal with everyday. Delays will cost lives and I urge the Minister for Health to make a decision quickly and introduce this vaccine to ensure no more lives are lost.

Meningitis attacks quickly

I was horrified at how quickly the disease took hold of my little girl. Aoibhe died in 2008 and it truly is a parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child. After the loss of Aoibhe my husband and I wanted to make sure that we did as much as possible to prevent other parents going through this terrible experience. We founded ACT for Meningitis in 2011 to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease and offer support to families who have been affected by the disease.

Meningitis is an infection that can kill a child within 24 hours. The symptoms can be similar to those children suffer many times during their childhood – vomiting, fever, diarrhoea and aches and pains similar to flu. The classic ‘meningitis’ symptoms such as rash, headache and dislike of lights are not always present.

Meningitis kills one in ten of those affected, but in addition, up to 20 per cent of survivors will suffer serious, life-altering side effects such as brain damage, limb amputations and hearing loss. The families dealing with these after effects, while of course being hugely grateful that they didn’t lose their child, still have to deal with a radical change from the healthy, perfect child before the meningitis. And the costs to society are vast.

MenB vaccine remains on the shelf

Since some vaccinations against the various strains of the disease were introduced, cases of meningitis have started to decrease. However, despite this evidence of success, the vaccination against the most common strain of the disease, MenB, remains on the shelf while the Government consider whether it’s worth giving to our children. Ireland has the highest incidence of Meningitis B in Europe; we should be doing everything in our power to prevent it.

We need to act, and we need to act now, whatever the costs. It is impossible to put a price on a child’s life. When we have the ability to prevent life-threatening infections like MenB there should be no delay. These cases in Cavan serve as a timely reminder of how this disease can take hold and the sad reality is that there have been, and will continue to be, many other cases like them in 2014 until a prompt decision is taken.

Siobhán Carroll lives in Galway with her husband Noel and her three children. Siobhán and Noel founded ACT for Meningitis in 2011, following the loss of their daughter Aoibhe – aged four – to meningitis.  The ACT stands for both the Aoibhe Carroll Trust and represents the need to ACT quickly when symptoms appear.

To learn more about ACT for Meningitis or if you require support please visit www.actformeningitis.ie or emailactformeningitis@gmail.com

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Siobhán Carroll

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