History of Vaccines in Ireland

Vaccination has an even greater profile thanks to the innovative vaccine response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But where and when did vaccinations in Ireland begin?

We celebrate almost 200 years of vaccination campaigns in Ireland by looking back at the history of vaccination over the decades.

Vaccination provides the best protection against these serious diseases.

Vaccine Introduction Ireland

1800s: In 1863 the first vaccination against smallpox for all children born in Ireland was introduced.  Deaths caused by smallpox began to fall, until the last reported death from smallpox in Ireland was reported in 1907. Smallpox vaccination stopped in Ireland in 1972. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated worldwide in 1980.  

1930 - 1940s: Diphtheria ‘the strangling angel of children’ was a terrifying disease that suffocated a child. Diphtheria was a very common cause of death among children, hundreds dying each year, until the 1940s in Ireland.  With the introduction of diphtheria and tetanus vaccine, the number of deaths fell year on year during the 1940s. In 1950 there were 5 deaths from diphtheria. The last death notified from diphtheria in Ireland was in 1967.  Sadly deaths still occur in unvaccinated children in Western Europe and beyond

1950s: The 1950s saw the introduction of two vaccines which would transform child and adult health in Ireland. 

Prior to the introduction of a Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine in 1953 there were up to 200 deaths each year from whooping cough. Following the introduction of the vaccine, cases and deaths from whooping cough fell rapidly. 

Polio has existed for thousands of years and epidemics were first reported in the 1800s. Polio mainly affected children under 3 years of age causing long term paralysis.  The Polio vaccine was introduced in Ireland in 1957. A few years after introduction of universal childhood vaccination, polio infection was almost eliminated. The last reported case of polio here was in 1984. However, over 7,000 people still suffer from post-polio syndrome in Ireland and cases of polio still occur in other parts of the world. 

1970s: During the 1950s and 1960s up to 5,000 cases of rubella were reported during epidemics. Rubella vaccine was introduced here in 1971. Rubella infection in early pregnancy has serious effects on the foetus causing cataracts, congenital heart disease, hearing impairment and developmental delay.  Prevention of these abnormalities (congenital rubella syndrome) is main aim of rubella vaccination.  In 2016 a WHO declaration stated that following vaccination rubella is no longer endemic in Ireland.

1980s: Before 1984, an average of 5,000 cases of measles were reported annually in Ireland. The number of cases of measles declined dramatically after introduction of measles vaccine in 1985, from 10,000 cases in 1985 to 201 cases in 1987.  MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine was introduced to Irish childhood immunisation schedule in 1988. However, measles outbreaks still occur in Ireland. The largest in recent years occurred in 2000, when more than 1600 cases were reported and 3 children died

2000s: The meningococcal C vaccine was introduced in 2000, and meningococcal B vaccine was introduced in 2016. Cases of meningococcal meningitis have dropped more than 80% since these vaccines were introduced. Meningococcal ACWY was introduced for all first year students in secondary schools in 2019 to provide additional protection.

2010:  HPV vaccine was introduced for girls in 1st year of secondary school to prevent cervical cancer in September 2010 and in September 2019 this was extended to include first year boys to protect them against cancers and genital warts caused by the HPV virus.

2016: The rotavirus vaccine was introduced to prevent severe diarrhoea in children. Reported cases of rotavirus infection fell by more than 70% in 2018

2020 sees the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In Ireland, vaccines are offered to protect babies, school children in Junior Infants and 1st Year, pregnant women, healthcare workers and adults. 

Read more about the vaccines offered in Ireland by clicking on one of the links below  


You can also read more about previous vaccine schedules on our history of vaccines webpage

Current Programme Schedule Nov-2021


People trust what healthcare workers say about vaccines

We know healthcare workers are the most trusted source for information about vaccines.

Every conversation is an opportunity to promote vaccination.

It is important to keep up to date with the latest information which is available from our website www.immunisation.ie


This page was updated on 24 April 2022