TB vaccine scheme must be reveiwed

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Surely there can be no complacency where the health of our children and teachers is concerned (see front-page story), but the response from the National Public Health Service for Wales to recent cases of tuberculosis (TB) affecting two schools and one childminder is alarmingly so. It appears to downplay calls for a review into whether the BCG vaccination programme should be reinstated, saying there is no evidence of any adverse effect of dropping the scheme in schools.

After three cases within three months in different areas of Wales, many would beg to differ - particularly the families who have had the stress of having their child screened for the infection in recent weeks. Dr Bill Harris, a Pontypridd GP, believes it would be hard to argue the case for not reinstating the vaccination programme. Trends show that cases of TB, a debilitating infection affecting the lungs that can be life-threatening, have stopped falling. There were just 11 more cases of TB in Wales between 2000 and the end of 2005.

OK, we are not on the verge of an epidemic, but these figures still buck the trend and this should be the point at which health officials seize the initiative and take action. Teaching unions in Wales whole-heartedly back a review. They don't want their members unnecessarily put at risk.

With a decline in the number of school nurses, and headteachers under increased workload pressure, the return of the vaccination programme will be one extra thing to organise in the school day. But many would rather see that than face the prospect of the entire school being screened once a pupil contracts the disease.

Such is the concern of Janet Ryder, shadow education spokesperson, that she is taking the initiative by writing to Edwina Hart, in her new role as Wales's health minister, to call for a review. Let's hope that Ms Hart will listen, and that teachers, parents and pupils can rest assured that the authorities are taking their health risks seriously. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure.

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