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Children's health

26th Mar 2024

Ireland records worst RSV season in history with over 7,000 cases

Jody Coffey

A Dublin pharmacist is calling for supplies for a new RSV vaccine to be ordered

As the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) season comes to a close this week, there has been a record of 7,678 laboratory-confirmed cases of the infection in Ireland.

Of this harrowing figure, almost half (3,240) of the RSV cases required hospitalisation and 1,404 cases were documented in very young babies under the age of one year.

These figures come from WonderCare family healthcare podcaster and Dublin pharmacist, Sheena Mitchell, who has labelled this RSV season as ‘our worst in history’.

The mum-of-three has warned that the highly contagious virus can cause severe respiratory tract infection and breathing difficulties in the very young and elderly

Following the significant number of hospitalisations of young children this RSV season – 2,287 children aged 0-4 years – the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has recommended the introduction of the RSV vaccine for this winter. 

Chief Medical Officer Breda Smyth ordered HIQA to complete a rapid Health Technology Assessment (HTA) to introduce the RSV vaccine for infants this winter.

However, according to HIQA, this report is not anticipated to be completed until August, which Sheena says is too late to order vaccines for this year’s RSV season.

She expressed grave concern regarding the immunisation of newborn babies and those entering their first RSV season, adding that vaccines need to start in September. 

She told HerFamily:

“We now have a chance to get out ahead of this year’s RSV season and start vaccinating from early September. However, the reality is that if we do not order our supply of the RSV vaccine now, it will be too late for this year’s babies,” Sheena warns.

The pharmacist says ‘bureaucracy’ has gotten in the way of ‘common sense’, as the chance to be proactive is now.

“Our Taoiseach has announced his departure from office, our Chief Medical Officer is due to retire in the summer.

“I am imploring the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, and our incoming Taoiseach to act now to secure our country’s RSV vaccine supply. Please don’t be distracted by the politics, babies’ lives depend on it.”

Sheena believes that the RSV vaccine should be administered with other vaccines during a baby’s routine GP appointments and babies born during RSV season should receive theirs before they are discharged from the hospital.

This, she says, in the long term would result in a reduction in GP appointments and hospitalisations, therefore saving the government money, less overcrowding in hospitals, and, most importantly, saving babies’ lives.

“This is a calculated strategic health spend that will not only save the government money, but it will save lives too,” the pharmacist urges.

“The results of the current HIQA rapid Health Technology Assessment underway for infant immunisation are obvious to all, but the supply of the vaccine will not be if we don’t take action now.”