Health and care services

Preventing vaccine preventable diseases in Ireland

As we come to the end of 2022, I have been reflecting on the work my team have accomplished this year to prevent outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases in Ireland, writes Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Public Health Medicine – National Immunisations Lead for the HSE National Immunisation Office.

The National Immunisation Office is a multi-disciplinary team of 20 within the HSE. We manage vaccine procurement and distribution and development of training and communication materials for the public and health professionals to allow for safe, equitable, and high-quality vaccination programmes to be delivered in line with Department of Health Immunisation Policy. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have also supported the implementation of the Covid-19 vaccination programme and its many updates by supporting healthcare professionals who are offering Covid-19 vaccines and advocating for their patients to get vaccinated.

In 2021, our work mainly concentrated in supporting the rollout of Covid-19 vaccine, and supporting our routine programmes when capacity allowed. However, 2022 has seen a return to “normal” work alongside supporting the Covid-19 vaccination programme and additional programmes we did not anticipate in 2021.

Reflecting on 2022

In April and May, our work in the development and implementation of mobile solutions ScanVax and TrackVax to support the safe and effective rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in Ireland was recognised with the receipt of IT Project of the Year at the CIO and IT Leader Awards and the award of Best Use of Information Technology at the Irish Healthcare Centre Awards (IHCA).

Our winning continued in June, with receipt of the best short presentation for “Views on Covid-19 vaccination of young children in Ireland: Results from a cross-sectional survey of parents” and receipt of best poster for “Preparation for catch up vaccination for Ukrainian people displaced by war – a descriptive piece” at the RCPI Summer Scientific Meeting.

In November, our team was awarded the Best Case Study, Healthcare Provider Recognition Award at the GS1 Healthcare Conference for ‘TrackVax’ and in December our Communications Manager will travel to India to present about the HPV vaccination programme in Ireland at the South Asia Regional meeting being organised by the Coalition to Strengthen the HPV Immunisation Community and HPV Prevention and Control Board.

This year we also published some important Irish research titled Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy in General Practice: A National Survey of General Practice Nurses and Views on Covid-19 vaccination of young children in Ireland, results from a cross-sectional survey of parents.

Thinking about our routine programmes

The Covid-19 vaccination programme continued to evolve and with that so did our materials and messages to healthcare professionals. The recent introduction of adapted Covid-19 vaccines has not only provided additional protection to people who get vaccinated but meant that all materials required updating to ensure we continue to support vaccinators in providing up to date and accurate information. We implemented a Keep Up to Date digital campaign during the summer to highlight the importance of babies getting vaccinated at two, four, six, 12, and 13 months of age through GP practices as we saw from published data that uptake of vaccines had decreased during Covid-19. With a return to travel we wanted to prevent outbreaks of diseases like meningococcal disease and polio which can make children very sick and leave them with lifelong changes that affect their health.

In October, the seasonal influenza vaccination programme was launched and to date over 800,000 eligible people have come forward to get their flu vaccine this season.

We are also encouraging people over 65 to get their pneumococcal vaccination through a digital campaign and working with health professionals and stakeholder organisations to develop short video messages to ensure people have access to accurate information and come forward to get protected.

We have just finalised plans for implementing the Laura Brennan HPV catch up vaccination programme, which will offer an additional opportunity throughout 2023 to get vaccinated for eligible people who did not previously accept the invitation to get vaccinated. I hope people will avail of this opportunity as the more young people vaccinated and women screened the better the spread of HPV infection can be controlled. Since the programme was introduced in Ireland in 2010 over 500,000 people have received their HPV vaccine course, which will move us closer to the global elimination of cervical cancer.

“Since the programme was introduced in Ireland in 2010 over 500,000 people have received their HPV vaccine course, which will move us closer to the global elimination of cervical cancer.”

Additional programmes

When planning our work for 2022 we did not anticipate we would also be supporting people who came to Ireland from Ukraine and supporting our colleagues in the HSE in the rollout of a monkeypox vaccination programme.

The declaration of war in Ukraine has resulted in over 50,000 people coming to Ireland from Ukraine. We wanted to support these people with accurate information about vaccination programmes in Ireland to try to prevent outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases. We quickly built relationships with health professionals now living in Ireland from Ukraine and developed bespoke materials which are community focused and address the most common queries using terminology and in a language they understand.

In July 2022, the WHO declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. My team quickly developed materials to support the HSE vaccination programme with input from the community who are being offered the vaccine and ensuring materials were translated into Irish, French, Spanish, and Portuguese to support as many people as possible.

My team and I continue to “rise to the challenge” and look forward to continuing to deliver a high-quality service on behalf of the HSE in 2023.

Lucy Jessop graduated from Cambridge University and worked in paediatrics before training in public health medicine in London.

She worked as a consultant in public health in Buckinghamshire for five years, leading on maternal and child health including immunisations. In 2014, she moved to work as a Consultant in Health Protection in Northern Ireland and was the lead for childhood immunisation programmes which included being the Northern Ireland member of the Joint Committee for Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) in the UK.

In 2019, she took up the position of Director of the National Immunisation Office in Ireland, where she leads the implementation and improvement of all the national immunisation programme in line with Department of Health Immunisation Policy. She is a member of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) in Ireland and is a passionate advocate for immunisations across the life course.

Social: @hseimm on Twitter and Instagram and National Immunisation Office on YouTube.

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