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'If you want to give medical advice on vaccinations, become a doctor. If not, get out of the way'

Simon Harris was addressing doctors at the Irish Medical Organisation AGM yesterday.

Image: Shutterstock/Guschenkova

THE PRESIDENT OF the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) Dr Ann Hogan and the Minister for Health Simon Harris have both expressed their deep concern at the decline in uptake rates of the HPV vaccine amongst young girls.

Speaking yesterday at the annual general meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation, the pair said that “scaremongering” on the safety of the vaccine was putting the lives of young women in Ireland at risk.

In his wide-ranging speech, which included commentary on the recent controversies around the new National Maternity Hospital, Harris issued a rallying call to doctors to show that it was their opinion that should be trusted on the issue of vaccination.

He said: “Let’s come out fighting. Let’s take on the scaremongers.

Let’s tell people – in no uncertain terms – that it is you, the doctors, who are the experts and the people who are most trusted, to know what is best for our young people’s health and wellbeing, young and old.

Harris said that he takes his advice on vaccinations from the Chief Medical Officer, the European Medicines Agency and from the World Health Organisation, and “not from random social media accounts”. He added:

If you want to give medical advice on vaccinations, become a doctor. If not, get out of the way and stay away from our public health policy.
We have a vaccine that can prevent girls from dying of cancer. And yet we have uninformed nonsense interfering with medical efforts to save lives. Shame on them.

“Fake news”

Also addressing IMO members was the group’s president Dr Ann Hogan.

She expressed her deep concern at the declining take up rates for vaccines in Ireland. She, too, lamented the impact of social media campaigns and “fake news” warning of the risks of the HPV vaccine.

“Uptake rates for the HPV vaccine amongst young girls are declining to a worrying extent on the back of fake news stories about non-existent risks from vaccinations,” she said.

As a result, we are putting the future health of young women at risk of cervical cancer and other ailments.

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

In most cases, the virus clears on its own and does not have any symptoms, but in some cases, it can lead to genital warts or cancer (throat, anal, cervical and penile cancer are the most common forms associated with HPV).

The HSE vaccinates thousands of schoolgirls against the virus each year, but there has been a dramatic drop off on take-up because of stories around the side-effects of the vaccine.

On Friday, members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland passed a motion asking for a review of the HPV vaccine programmes in schools.

Read: ‘Four doctors told me this would kill me’: The devastating effect HPV can have on men and women

Read: ‘Hearsay on social media’ being blamed for falling vaccine rates

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Sean Murray

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