Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 06:14 GMT
UK: Northern Ireland
Doctors frustrated over vaccine scarcity
Vaccination programme on the cards for young people
A number of doctors in Northern Ireland have complained that a new vaccination programme against one strain of meningitis is being hampered by the lack of vaccine.
They accused the Department of Health of a "cock-up" over the availability of the vaccine against the C-strain of the disease which is being given to babies and young people as part of an £11m mass vaccination campaign in the province.
Dr Raymond Shearer, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Council for General Practitioners said: "Doctors are increasingly frustrated at the lack of availability and distribution of the new vaccine.
"GPs are very annoyed. The whole thing is a cock-up and the supplies just aren't available. Even the department can't get the immunisation on time."
However, Northern Ireland Health Minister George Howarth explained that the vaccine had only been licensed last week and there had been no opportunity to stockpile supplies.
All children to be vaccinated
"I intend to make the vaccine available now so that we can help save lives this winter. As further supplies become available we will be making sure these go straight to doctors and nurses to complete our programme."
He pledged that over the coming year all children in the province would be vaccinated - in recent years 10 local young people have died after contracting various strains of meningitis.
Because of supply problems only those in the most vulnerable age groups will be given priority.
From next week the vaccine will be offered to all 15-17 year olds.
From 6 December, it will be made available to babies at two, three and four months and 15 months as part of the routine immunisation programme.
After Christmas other babies under one will be recalled by their GPs. Other pre-school children will start to be recalled in a special catch-up programme. After Easter, health authorities hope to start vaccinating all other school-age children.
Northern Ireland chief medical officer Dr Henrietta Campbell appealed to parents to wait until their children were called either by their school or GP as it was important to prioritise the most vulnerable while there were only Iimited supplies of the vaccine available.
The accusations follow the launch of a public awareness campaign about the new meningitis C vaccine by the Health Promotion Agency on Monday.
The agency has produced over one million leaflets entitled Meningitis: Reduce the risk for children and young people to ensure the public has adequate information about the vaccine.
A television and radio advertising campaign is being launched to highlight the importance of people receiving the vaccine when they are sent an appointment.
Dr Brian Gaffney, Chief Executive of the Health Promotion Agency said: "The information leaflet which the agency has produced should answer many of the questions the public may have about the vaccination programme.
"It includes information about the vaccine, who will be given it and when."