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Cancer

'Women will die needlessly': Call for push to increase uptake of HPV vaccine

The Irish Cancer Society also wants the vaccination programme to be extended to include boys.

THE IRISH CANCER Society has said the latest figures on HPV-caused cancers highlight “urgent need for increased investment to prevent unnecessary deaths”.

The latest report from the National Cancer Registry (NCRI) highlights an increase in the rate of cancers related to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

The Irish Cancer Society has called for additional efforts and investment to both improve uptake of the HPV vaccination programme and to widen the programme to include boys.

Donal Buggy, head of services and advocacy at the organisation, said: “This NCRI report on HPV-associated cancers puts a spotlight on the devastating consequences this virus can have on women and men. The vast majority of us will develop a HPV infection at some point in our lives, and for most this will be harmless.

“Sadly, though, according to the NCRI’s report, around 420 men and women in Ireland each year are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection. These HPV-caused cancers claim up to 130 lives each year.

“The fact that we now have a vaccine that can significantly reduce these cancer incidences and save lives should mean that these numbers will fall substantially in the coming years.

However, reports that uptake of the vaccine among first year secondary school girls, to whom it is offered for free, has dropped from 87% to as low as 50% in the space of two years is hugely concerning. If this worrying trend is not reversed, women will continue to die needlessly from HPV-caused cancers.

Buggy added that, while 335 women are diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV each year, it is “also important to note that 85 men in Ireland annually develop a cancer which could potentially be prevented by a simple and safe vaccination”.

“While boys can avail of the HPV vaccine through their GP, for a fee, the Irish Cancer Society believes it is time for the government to invest in the extension of the national HPV school vaccination programme to boys, so that as many lives as possible can be saved,” he said.

Misinformation 

Health Minister Simon Harris recently hit out at anti-vaccine campaigners, whose comments he said are putting the lives of children and adults at risk.

Highlighting the HPV vaccine in particular, Harris said he is very concerned about the fall in the uptake rate. He said the decline is partly due to a campaign of misinformation about the vaccine – claims he states are “false” and “unfounded”.

There is no scientific evidence that the HPV vaccine causes any long-term illness. However, this misinformation has led to a significant drop in uptake rates of the HPV vaccine. This means that a large cohort of girls are now at risk of developing cervical cancer later in their lives.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland last month passed a motion asking for a review of the HPV vaccine programmes in schools.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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

Read: Health Minister slams ‘false’ and ‘unfounded’ claims from anti-vaccine campaigners

Read: HSE: Complacency over vaccines could cause death in Ireland

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