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Health Minister slams 'false' and 'unfounded' claims from anti-vaccine campaigners

Highlighting the particular case of the HPV vaccine, Harris said he is very concerned about the fall in the uptake rate, which is heading below 50%.
Apr 28th 2017, 6:20 AM 9,172 77

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON HARRIS had harsh words for anti-vaccine campaigners yesterday whose comments he said are putting the lives of children and adults at risk.

At the launch of the Irish vaccines report yesterday the minister said some people have misconceived ideas associated with the risks of vaccines.

Highlighting the particular case of the HPV vaccine, Harris said he is very concerned about the fall in the uptake rate, which is heading below 50%.

Harris said the decline is partly due to a campaign of misinformation about the vaccine – claims he states are “false” and “unfounded”.

Anti-vaccine campaigners 

One campaign group that has come to prominence in recent years is Regret, which questions the safety of the HPV vaccine, claiming it caused illness in 400 Irish teenage girls and young women after they took it.

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, and is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, with almost all men and women contracting it at some point in their lives.

According to the HSE, 80% of women contract HPV, usually in their late teens or 20s.

The HPV vaccine used in the school programme is called Gardasil, and protects against four out of 170 types of the virus: numbers 6, 11, 16, 18.

HPV vaccine 

“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,” said the Wicklow TD.

“This is a clear and present danger. We know what can happen from our own fairly recent experience. The scare surrounding the MMR vaccine in the 1990s resulted in a large reduction in uptake rates for this vaccine,” he added.

When there was an outbreak of measles in Dublin in January 2000 more than 100 children were hospitalised, he said, adding that 13 children required intensive care treatment, while there were three measles related deaths.

The minister is not the only politician to voice his concerns about the campaign against the vaccine.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell recently told the Oireachtas Health Committee that forty women will die of cervical cancer as a result of the falling uptake in the HPV vaccine.

Impact on society 

Harris said that despite the availability of free and effective vaccines, the small number of people making the choice not to vaccinate themselves or their children are having a wider impact on society.

People need to be aware that a personal decision not to vaccinate has a wider public impact. Such a decision may put their own life and that of their child at risk, and it may also put at risk other vulnerable individuals that they come into contact with – people with a reduced immunity such as sick and elderly vulnerable patients, pregnant women or small babies who have not yet completed all their vaccinations.

However, despite warnings about the HPV vaccine, Harris said he was glad to say Ireland’s uptake rates for many vaccines in the Primary Childhood Immunisation Programme are close to the World Health Organisation (WHO) uptake target of 95%.

Despite this figure, the minister said there was no room for complacency.

“Due to the success of our programme, many vaccine preventable diseases have become so infrequent that we have lost the collective memory of how serious some childhood illnesses can be. We cannot become victims of our own success,” he concluded.

Read: ‘Forty young Irish girls will die of cervical cancer as a result of falling HPV vaccine rates’ says Fine Gael TD>

Read: ‘Ireland needs assurances about Sellafield safety as UK withdraws from EU nuclear safety group’>

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Christina Finn

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