Donnelly urges parents to vaccinate children against measles

Donnelly Urges Parents To Vaccinate Children Against Measles
A rapid risk assessment found the probability of a measles outbreak in Ireland was high. Photo: Getty
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By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has urged parents whose children have not been vaccinated against measles to get them vaccinated as the government prepared for a possible outbreak of the disease.

Mr Donnelly said he was launching a measles vaccine ‘catch-up’ programme in order to restore immunity cover to the internationally recommended standard.


He said there had been an “uptick” in measles cases across Europe in recent months, and that there had been several fatalities in measles cases in Romania.

More than 170 measles cases have been diagnosed in the West Midlands region in England between December and mid-January 2024.



A rapid risk assessment carried out by the HSE in January found that the probability of a measles outbreak in Ireland was high.

“We’ve conducted this risk assessment and the advice I have from that is that there is a serious chance that we could see an outbreak here,” Mr Donnelly said.

He said around one in five young men in Ireland aged around the 19-21 age bracket are not vaccinated against measles.


A recent Irish study has also estimated that 11 per cent of adults aged 18-34 do not have immunity to measles.

Stephen Donnelly said he was launching a measles vaccine ‘catch-up’ programme in Ireland. Photo: PA

Authorities believe that misinformation in the past affected the number of children who are now without protection against measles as they did not receive the MMR vaccine.

An MMR catch-up programme launched in November 2023 through GPs aims for those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated to opt in and for children aged 10 and under, the vaccine is available for free from GPs.


In Ireland, sporadic measles cases have been reported to the HSE and most cases confirmed since 2020 reported recent travel to countries where outbreaks were ongoing.

There were four measles ‘events’ reported in 2023, which were part of a family outbreak where all children were aged between three to nine years old. The index case was imported from outside the EU.


The World Health Organisation’s recommendation for the MMR vaccine is that 95 per cent of the population should be vaccinated for full protection, but in Ireland the uptake rate has been at 90 per cent for seven quarters in a row.

The level of cover also varies greatly depending on location – in Louth and Meath the uptake rate is below 80 per cent, but is as high as 94 per cent in Dublin southwest.

Mr Donnelly said the chief medical officer Breda Smyth is “particularly concerned” about an outbreak in areas where protection is much lower.

“To mums and dads around the country whose children have yet to be vaccinated for measles – this is the MMR vaccination – is we’ve now put in place a catch-up programme up to the age of 10 years of age,” Mr Donnelly told RTE Radio.

“If your child is up to the age of 10 and hasn’t been vaccinated, it’s really important that they get vaccinated, it can be done in participating GPs free of charge around the country.”

The timing of the MMR2 vaccination offered in junior infants has moved from the second school term to the first to try to ensure protection as early as possible.

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