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Parents urged to ask medical professionals about HPV vaccine instead of relying on 'misinformation'

The HSE launched a vaccine information campaign today, confirming two in three women are now being inoculated against the HPV virus.

Minister for Health Simon Harris at the launch of the HSE’s HPV Vaccine Information Campaign 2018/19
Minister for Health Simon Harris at the launch of the HSE’s HPV Vaccine Information Campaign 2018/19
Image: Stephen McDermott

THE MINISTER FOR Health has urged those with concerns about the HPV vaccine to consult a healthcare professional as he criticised those who questioned its effectiveness.

Speaking at the launch of a campaign to encourage girls and young women to inoculate themselves against the HPV virus, Simon Harris said the vaccine had been proven to save lives.

The HSE confirmed today that the latest provisional uptake rate for the vaccine now stands at 65%, an increase of 15% in the last year.

However, Ireland continues to have one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in western Europe, with 58% of women diagnosed with the disease under the age of 50.

The increase in those receiving the vaccine followed a decline in recent years, with an uptake rate of just 51% during the 2016/17 academic year.

“Prevention is better than cure, and this is especially true of cervical cancer,” the Minister said at the launch of the latest phase of the HSE Vaccine Information Campaign.

“We are lucky to have a vaccine that can potentially prevent 70% of cervical cancers, and I am very pleased to say that our increased provisional uptake figures last year have been internationally recognised.”

‘Extraordinarily irresponsible’

Vaccination teams are set to visit secondary schools around the country to administer the vaccine to first year girls, and Harris revealed that his Department is also aiming to roll out the scheme to boys – who also suffer from the virus – from next year.

“Extending the national immunisation schedule to include HPV vaccination of boys is a priority for me, and subject to a favourable recommendation from HIQA,” the Minister said.

Harris also took aim at politicians who cast doubt on the vaccine’s benefits, saying those in public life owed it to cervical cancer victims to communicate the necessity of being inoculated against HPV.

“For anyone in public life to in any way cast doubt on a vaccine authorised by the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency that has saved so many lives is an extraordinarily irresponsible thing to do,” he said.

His comments follow the emergence of a 2016 interview with Sinn Féin presidential candidate Liadh Ní Riada, who said she had decided one of her daughters should not receive the vaccine, despite her older daughter having already received it.

During the interview, she said that she had heard of “a number of people that were affected by side effects” of the vaccine and that there were thousands who’d received the vaccine who hadn’t.

However, Ní Riada also said she was not advocating against people inoculating their child, and later clarified that she was not opposed to vaccines.

The HSE has also stressed that there is no scientific evidence of an increase in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or any other long-term medical conditions in those who have been vaccinated.

Facts

Harris said that Ní Riada had clarified her views on the matter and said he didn’t want to politicise the issue.

“I hope and expect everybody in public life to help get out the facts about this,” he added.

“I want to talk directly to the parents of Ireland and I want to say to them, if you want to get information on this vaccine, factual medical information, get it from your doctor.” 

The Minister also singled out 25 year-old cervical cancer patient Laura Brennan for her advocacy in encouraging young women to get the HPV vaccine.

In a powerful speech at today’s launch, Brennan – whose cancer is terminal – said the vaccine could have saved her life.

“I’m facing my death and the reason is a virus that your child doesn’t have to get,” she said.

“I’ll be gone in a few years. Once I’m gone there is nothing more I can do about it so I hope you all listen to me while you have the chance.”

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