HPV vaccine could prevent up to 100 deaths a year, report says

New study claims human papillomavirus causes over 400 cancer cases annually

Up to 100 cancer deaths each year are caused by infections covered by the HPV vaccine, according to a new report. File photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Up to 100 cancer deaths each year are caused by infections covered by the HPV vaccine, according to a new report. File photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

Up to 100 cancer deaths each year are the result of infections covered by the HPV vaccine, according to a new report.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections cause up to 420 cancer cases a year, and up to 130 cancer deaths, according to the report from the National Cancer Registry.

Of these 130, up to 100 are preventable by vaccination.

Long-term infection with strains of HPV is now well-established as a risk factor for many cancers of the cervix, penis and vagina, as well as head and neck cancers, the report says.

The incidence of HPV-associated cancers is growing at a rate of two per cent a year.

HPV is spread mainly through skin-to-skin contact during sex. About 80 per cent of people will be infected at some point in their lives.

The study says effective use of the current vaccine, which protects against four variants of the infection, could over time prevent up to two-thirds of all cancers associated with HPV in Irish women.

It also says that half of all HPV-associated cancers in men could be prevented if the vaccination were extended to boys.

The uptake of the vaccine among teenage girls has fallen from 87 per cent to just 50 per cent in recent years, following a campaign run by the Regret group, which claims that hundreds of girls have suffered adverse effects after receiving the jab in the first year of secondary school.

These claims are not supported by scientific evidence.

Prof Kerri Clough-Gorr, director of the National Cancer Registry, described the severe downturn in HPV vaccination rates due to “unconfirmed vaccine safety concerns” as “very concerning”.

“This needs to be addressed to help reduce the impact of these often-fatal cancers,” she said.

The level of opposition to the vaccine prompted Co Meath GP Ruairi Hanley to suggest this week that parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated should have their child benefit cut by half.

Progress

Much progress has been made in vaccinating girls against HPV, Prof Clough-Gorr said.

Of the 420 cancer cases attributable to HPV each year, 335 are in women and 85 are in men.

The study says 320 of these cases could be attributed to HPV types covered by the current “four-valent” Gardasil vaccine used in Ireland.

However, 380 cases would be covered if there were a switch to the “nine-valent” vaccine used in the US.

Teenage girls have been given the HPV vaccine in Ireland since 2010.

The possibility of extending coverage to teenage boys is being examined by the Health Information and Quality Authority.