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Sunday 28 May 2023 Dublin: 14°C
# vaccine controversy
'I wouldn't dare say don't take the vaccine': TDs on why they've asked questions about HPV in Dáil
With HPV high on the agenda, we spoke to TDs who’ve raised the issue in the Dáil chamber.

LAST WEEK, THE HSE launched an information campaign urging parents to avail of the free HPV vaccine programme for their school-going daughters, amidst falling rates of girls receiving the vaccine.

409 HSE launches HPV Vaccination_90521828 Sasko Lazarov / Minister Simon Harris has spoken out strongly against critics of the HPV vaccine Sasko Lazarov / /

HPV, which can be contracted by physical contact, particularly sexual contact, can lead to a number of cancers, including cervical, penile, throat and anal cancers in men and women.

The seven-year-old vaccine programme to protect girls against contracting HPV has seen uptake rates fall from 90% at its peak to 50% last year, and Minister for Health Simon Harris spoke out strongly against the “misinformation” that had caused these rates to drop so severely.

As this FactCheck from found, all scientific evidence – in Ireland and internationally – has pointed towards the vaccine being very effective and very safe. However, campaign groups have questioned the safety of the vaccine, claiming it has caused illnesses in hundreds of teenage girls and young women in Ireland.

HSE Director General Tony O’Brien said that campaigns against the HPV vaccine couldn’t be described as anything other than “a form of emotional terrorism”.

McGrath comments 

Finian McGrath, a super junior minister at the Department of Health and a member of the Independent Alliance, has come under fire for his stance on the rollout of the vaccine. It was reported at the weekend that the Dublin TD raised concerns about the vaccine when in opposition last year.

McGrath has since said he stands over the fact that he raised the concerns of parents, but that he accepts “that such vaccines are a very important part of Government health strategy”.

He is not the only TD to have raised the issue on more than one occasion in the Dáil. In fact, HPV has been mentioned in 276 separate sittings of the Dáil, Seanad and Oireachtas Committees, and Gardasil in another 123 sittings. spoke to several TDs who raised the concerns of their constituents about HPV vaccine Gardasil, and asked where they stood on the topic now.

‘You can’t be an expert in everything’

A common theme across the TDs we spoke to was that they were raising the topic because of concerns brought to them by local constituents.

Fine Gael TD for Sligo-Leitrim Tony McLoughlin has raised the issue on numerous occasions with the Minister for Health via parliamentary questions in the Dáil.

BAN FRACKING 769_90501582 Sam Boal / Fine Gael's Tony McLoughlin Sam Boal / /

Since May 2016, he has asked questions about Gardasil on seven separate occasions.

In his most recent question, in January of this year, he asked Simon Harris for “his views on the fact that more and more parents of children affected by the Gardasil vaccine are contacting their public representatives” about their concerns regarding the HPV vaccine.

McLoughlin also asked if the Minister would consider setting up an independent inquiry to investigate the claims.

Speaking to, the Sligo-Leitrim TD said that he had raised the issue because a number of families in his constituency had reported to him that their daughters had been affected adversely by the vaccine.

He said: “As a public representative, I was approached by a number of parents who had these concerns. It’s my job then to highlight them, to ask the questions.”

McLoughlin said that Harris had sought to reassure him that the HPV vaccine was safe.

“All of the experts [Harris] was receiving advice from were saying that it was safe,” he said.

He emphasised that he was no expert himself, but felt it was worth highlighting his constituents’ concerns on a national stage as their public representative.

“I spoke to Harris – both in the Dáil chamber and on a one-to-one level,” McLoughlin said. “He said it is vital that young ladies receive this vaccine, and that reassured me to a degree.”

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy has also raised the issue of Gardasil in the Dáil.

She told that, at the time in autumn 2015, she wouldn’t have been as familiar with the topic as she is now.

“You can’t be an expert in everything,” she said. “When a constituent has concerns, you raise it with the Minister which is what I did.

PAC REPORT 758A7086_90518246 Eamonn Farrell / Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy Eamonn Farrell / /

Parents will always want to satisfy themselves by getting a good answer. I brought it to the Minister’s attention and got a very comprehensive reply.

The Kildare North TD said that there was no harm in having a debate about it in the public domain.

“I would take an evidence-based approach, and there is very strong international evidence that supports the vaccine,” she said.

We have had vaccine trials with serious side effects in this country before but [Gardasil] is different. This vaccine went through a significant set of trials over many years before it reached patients here.

Murphy added:

I’ve got to say I know people who have had cervical cancer and have died from it. Good health policy needs to be proactive rather than reactive. That’s the approach I’d be expecting people in the Department of Health to take.

‘It’s changed their lives’

90414273_90414273 Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae

Michael Healy-Rae, independent TD for Kerry South, first asked about the Gardasil vaccine in 2014.

Providing details of a case, he asked then-Minister for Health James Reilly if the vaccine was safe and if there was a possibility of side-effects.

He asked Minister for Health Simon Harris if he had plans to highlight the dangers of the vaccine in July 2016, and again in October 2016.

Healy-Rae told that he has dealt with parents who said their children had reacted to the vaccine “in a very serious, negative way”.

“It’s changed their lives, and turned them upside down,” he said.

I wouldn’t dare say such a thing as don’t take the vaccine. What I would say is you have to make yourselves aware of the worries and concerns about the vaccine.

He said that Finian McGrath shouldn’t be criticised for asking questions on behalf of his own constituents.

“He was being honest, and he’s acting responsibly,” Healy-Rae said. “And you can’t blame him for that.”

Healy-Rae said that he felt he had to raise the issue with Reilly and Harris to express the worries of families.

“I have a lot of families who are devastated about it. And I have families of daughters who’ve had no adverse reaction,” he said. “I think it’s up to the parents.”

As for the hypothetical situation of whether or not he would choose to have his own daughter given the vaccine, the Kerry South TD said that would be a difficult choice.

“I’d have to sit down with my wife, and my child, and we’d have to look at all the evidence. I’d have to educate myself,” he said.

At the minute, I think I probably would say they should get the vaccine.

Back in 2015, an Oireachtas Committee invited in representatives from Regret, a group advocating against the use of Gardasil.

At that sitting, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said he thought it was “important that we provide a forum where the witnesses can present their case and outline their concerns about the Gardasil vaccine”.

7112 FF Health Service Crisis_90513382 Leah Farrell / Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher Leah Farrell / /

“We must ensure that information is provided to patients in a way that is legible and understanding and that informs them of the full potentials of the risks around the vaccination programme,” the Cork North Central TD said at the time.

Speaking to yesterday, Kelleher said the current uptake levels are “very concerning for public health”.

“This is an immunisation programme that actually saves lives,” he said. “It is very concerning that we had that misinformation out there.”

On having Regret addressing the Oireachtas committee, the Fianna Fáil TD said that they had “grave concerns” about their families and that they brought clinicians in to the same committee to give their expert opinion.

We should be promoting [the HPV vaccine]. And we should promote it in a way that explains in detail the advantages, the importance of getting it. If there are risks, they should be explained. Fears should be allayed.

Referring to Finian McGrath’s comments, Kelleher said that “if you’re going to heighten concerns, you need to back it up”.

“Our political figures can’t undermine this in a casual way,” he added.

Political pressure

Kelleher’s comments on McGrath add to growing pressure on the Minister, after calls from Labour’s Alan Kelly for him to resign.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday, Kelly said McGrath had been “irresponsible in the extreme”.

He said: “As a Minister in the Department of Health, the amount of commentary he has now generated is completely irresponsible for someone in his position to generate.”

4052 Cabinet Meeting_90518873 Leah Farrell / Finian McGrath has faced calls to step down from his health ministry Leah Farrell / /

Simon Harris has been particularly strong in his statements on the vaccine in recent days, saying that he gets his “advice from people who train very, very hard and who are well-qualified to give medical and scientific advice”.

If you want to be a clinician, if you want to be a pharmacist, if you want to be a scientist go study one of those disciplines. Then come back and give scientific advice.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton, meanwhile, has said that he does not believe Minister Finian McGrath should resign.

Bruton said yesterday that he is “confident” McGrath has “corrected the impression that was put out there that he was in some way opposed to this approach”.

He also dismissed concerns about the safety of the vaccine, adding: “I think Finian did make comments in opposition when he raised concerns but I think the government is absolutely satisfied that those concerns are without foundation.”

Read: Richard Bruton dismisses concerns about HPV vaccine, but says Finian McGrath should not resign

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

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