The mother of a boy whose immune system is suppressed due to a range of disabilities and health conditions is among many parents left with no choice but to pay privately for his vaccine to ward off the deadly meningitis B strain.

Aisling McNiffe, from Ardclough outside Straffan, Co Kildare, said her son Jack (13), who has Down syndrome, cannot speak and is tube fed. He is taking 18 medicines a day, which could leave him with little defence against the lethal bug.

She has also paid for the vaccine for her daughter Molly (15), leaving her with a bill of €560 for both jabs.

When the HSE started offering this vaccine to infants in 2016 only those born from October onwards were deemed eligible, leaving older children outside the programme.

“The expert committee advising on vaccines originally recommended that children with Down syndrome be given the vaccine because they are a vulnerable group,” said Ms McNiffe.

She followed up with the HSE and a long battle followed, but she was told it wasn’t being extended outside newborns.

“I got it privately last year,” she said. “There was no will to make it available.

“I don’t know why we could not have done a catch-up programme for all children up to 12 years of age.”

She said Jack is immune suppressed because he is on drugs for his auto-inflammatory disease.

“All children with Down syndrome would be immuno-compromised, but he is a bit worse because of the medication. He also needs further heart surgery so he needs it to protect him.”

Meningitis and sepsis caused by meningococcal group B bacteria can affect people of any age, but are most common in babies and young children.

It can lead to severe brain damage and death.

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