Labour wants the HPV vaccine to be rolled out to boys sooner rather than later

The plan was originally to roll the free vaccine out to boys – but this has yet to happen.

LABOUR’S ALAN KELLY has said his party will table a motion calling for the HPV vaccine to be extended to boys.

Speaking to Newstalk’s Chris Donohoe at the party’s think-in in Athy in Kildare, Kelly said he has been working with Health Minister Simon Harris on the initiative.

From the years 2014 -2015, there was an 87% uptake in the HPV vaccine – the highest since the programme began in 2010. However, immunisation rates have now fallen below 50%.

The health minister, along with other politicians, have attributed the fall-off in the uptake to misinformation being circulated from anti-vaccine campaigners.

The move to extend the roll-out of the vaccine comes after controversial comments about the vaccine by Minister of State for Disabilities, Finian McGrath.

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”.

It was always the intention to roll out the HPV vaccine to boys in Ireland – but due to the slowdown in rates, the timetable has been delayed.

Boys at risk

Although it’s thought that men aren’t affected by the virus because of it’s strong link to cervical cancer, men are at risk and encouraged to get the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine can prevent men from contracting genital warts as well as HPV-associated cancers. The primary forms of cancers caused by HPV are:

  • cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer in women
  • penile cancer in men
  • throat and anal cancer in men and women.

For women, the provision of the vaccine to girls in their first year of secondary school has been in place in Ireland since 2010.

When it was then introduced by Minister for Health Mary Harney, the plan was originally to roll the free vaccine out to boys as well – but this has yet to happen.

Health regulator, Hiqa, is carrying out a review on whether boys should get the vaccine, but the results are not expected until next year, which Labour argues is too late.

A symposium in Dublin earlier this year discussed the rise of HPV in cancers other than cervical cancer, including a significant rise in some head and neck cancers.

Fine Gael Kate O’Connell told there has been a “huge rise” in head, neck, anal genital cancers in men.

“Young boys in this country as a result of a campaign are not being vaccinated. There is a sense of inequality there… the boys are not getting what we had planned to give them,” she said.

Labour party think-in

The issue is likely to be discussed further at the party’s think-in today.

Kelly said he is enjoying working as Labour’s health spokesperson, but said he still has ambitions to be the leader of the party one day.

File Photo Alan kelly didnt show up at Brenda Howlin's press conference as new Labour Leader. Jan O'Sullivan, Brendan Howlin and Alan Kelly

He said the party has to “get back to its roots” and has been forced to do a lot of “soul-searching” since the devastating results of the last election which reduced their parliamentary party members by half.

While Kelly said he believes they will be able to retrieve the party from the ashes, with hopes they might even double their seats in the next election, he said the party must consider carefully who they might go into coalition with, if that is an option.

Whether that is Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, Kelly said it “doesn’t make any difference”.

“We would consider it,” he said.

However, he said his party “wouldn’t be interested” in going into government with Sinn Féin.

Poll ratings are a worry 

The party’s ratings in the polls have struggled to get into the double digits. Despite what other parties might say, Kelly said everyone worries about the polls.

He acknowledged that Labour must see a boost in the polls by the end of the year, and hinted that if this fails to materialise, the party might have to make some changes.

However, he would not be pushed on whether this meant a change in leadership, stating that Labour leader Brendan Howlin is “doing his best in what was very difficult circumstances”.

Kelly said he believes numbers will return to Labour stating:

“The politics of populism and eternal protest… people are going to get sick and tired of that.

“You can’t always be against everything and for nothing,” he said.

Read: Leo Varadkar sat down with the New York Times for a big Sunday interview>

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