Minister for Health Simon Harris is to establish a “vaccine alliance” of policy makers, patients advocates and clinicians to tackle public concerns about vaccinations.
Mr Harris has sought support from opposition parties for a cross-party motion on vaccination which calls on the Oireachtas to reduce vaccine hesitancy, strengthen dialogue with people who have concerns about vaccinations, and establish a vaccine alliance.
Mr Harris said that hesitancy around vaccinations is “one of the greatest threats to public health”.
The proposed cross-party motion follows a series of measles outbreaks across Europe over the past year.
The World Health Organisation has listed “vaccine hesitancy” among 10 global health threats in 2019. The WHO said that vaccination currently prevents up to three million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.
“The health service is working extremely hard to counter the myths spread about vaccination and increase the uptake rates,” Mr Harris said.
“We have had some success in this regard but we have a significant body of work to do. This September, we will introduce the HPV vaccine for boys and roll out a new vaccine for meningitis. We will also attend the Global Vaccination Summit.”
The proposed motion notes that the eradication of smallpox, the virtual elimination of polio, protection against cervical cancer and protection of the vulnerable against influenza all arose from vaccination. It also notes that there has been a 30 per cent increase in cases of measles worldwide.
“I believe this is an opportune time for the Oireachtas to send out a very clear message about its position on the issue of vaccinations. The motion challenges policy makers to combat vaccine hesitancy and tackle the myths and misinformation around vaccination and to work with those who have genuine concerns.
“There are parents who have concerns and we want to work with them. However, there are also others who deliberately spread lies and nonsense about vaccinations and we need to call them out too,” Mr Harris said.
It is understood that the motion has received early support from Sinn Féin, Labour, the Green Party and Independents4Change. It comes after a global survey this month revealed that Irish people have a lower than average belief that vaccines are safe.
The global survey of more than 140,000 people, conducted by biomedical research charity Wellcome, found that 74 per cent of people here express trust in vaccines, less than the global average of 79 per cent.
The new vaccine alliance will include healthcare workers, policymakers, patient advocates, parents and educators. They will be tasked with making sure that accurate, evidence-based and consistent messages about vaccination are spread.