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HSE says people claiming to be nurses are warning against HPV vaccine on social media

The head of the HSE’s National Immunisation Office said the health service is starting to win the battle against misinformation, but there is more work to do.

Image: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

THE HSE HAS advised parents to ensure they base decisions about vaccines for their children on sound scientific and medical advice as it has been made aware of anti-vaccine social media posts purporting to be from health professionals.

In minutes of a meeting about HPV vaccine uptake from October last year, released to TheJournal.ie through a Freedom of Information request, the office discussed a number of issues including that “nurses are often refuser parents”.

The minutes questioned how the HSE might deal with this. Speaking to TheJournal.ie this week, Dr Brenda Corcorcan, head of the HSE’s National Immunisation Office, said the minutes from that meeting “are probably a bit misleading”.

We get anecdotes from all across the country and we’d note them and write them down – it doesn’t mean it’s widespread – so that may have been just in one small area.

She said, however, that there had been reports of anti-HPV vaccine posts on social media by people who claimed to be nurses.

“They’re difficult to validate, we don’t know if it’s true in terms of who they are. And health professionals do have a responsibility around this.”

Corcoran said she wanted to highlight that nurses has been “extremely pivotal” in advising people of the benefits of the vaccination. She said the HSE recognised the importance of discussions parents had with their public health nurses, GPs and pharmacists about the decision to give their consent.

So far, 230,000 girls have been vaccinated with uptake levels rising from below 50% last year to 62%.

“It’s fantastic and the really good thing is that it’s all across the country, not just some parts.”

Misinformation

The focus for the HSE over the next year will be on ensuring parents and the girls themselves know where to find sound scientific information about the HPV vaccine in order to make an informed decision about it.

“It’s difficult for parents reading stories about girls who have allegedly been damaged by the vaccine – and there is no doubt these girls are unwell. But the message is, and the science is, that there is no scientific evidence to show that the vaccines have caused these conditions. They happened before the vaccine was around and the rates [of these illnesses] haven’t changed since it was introduced.

These girls need help, but the vaccine was not the cause. You see emotive stories from parents and obviously you empathise with them, of course you do, but you need to try to distinguish from that an the cause of the illness.

Corcoran said the HSE had to improve its own social media engagement around the issue, highlighting the devastation caused by cervical cancer.

Each year in Ireland, 300 women get a diagnosis of cervical cancer and 90 die of the illness.

“There are also 6,500 women who get an abnormal smear diagnosis and in many instances this necessitates hospital intervention. Some end up with longterm fertility problems. That is really devastating for that woman.”

The health service’s media campaign, which was launched in August last year, also involved a number of girls who had already been vaccinated.

“We used that footage to help persuade other girls their own age, so we adopted a peer approach. We also used video footage of a woman who had already had cancer, going through the decision about whether to get her daughter vaccinated. Also a number of gynaecologists and videos from the World Health Organisation,” Corcoran said.

The HSE is asking parents who may not have given consent for the vaccine last year to think about it again and get in touch if they change their mind.

“Shortly we will start to see the reduction in girls who may have developed this cancer. This is about saving girls’ lives.”

Corcoran has advised any parents or teenagers who wish to know more about the vaccine, to go to HPV.ie, which is the only website about the vaccine that is accredited by the World Health Organisation. 

FactCheck: No, the reported side effects of the HPV vaccine do NOT outweigh the proven benefits>

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