Cervical cancer vaccine uptake rises to 65%

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was 'very encouraged' by the upward trend

Minister for Health Simon Harris at the launch of a new national day to recognise the unsung heroes from frontline and emergency services at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Health Simon Harris at the launch of a new national day to recognise the unsung heroes from frontline and emergency services at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The rate of uptake of the cervical cancer vaccine increased by 15 percentage points in the last year, figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE) show.

Vaccination rates rose from a low of 50 per cent to 65 per cent in that period following a significant public health information campaign.

The vaccine protects against several strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes seven out of 10 types of cervical cancer.

Previously 87 per cent of girls aged 12 to 13 had been receiving the vaccine but rates began to fall as concerns were raised about the product.

Anti-vaccination campaigners on social media alleged the vaccine was linked to cases of young girls developing chronic fatigue syndrome, a claim which public health officials have strongly refuted.

‘Very encouraged’

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was “very encouraged” by the upward trend and plans to have the vaccine offered to boys in the first year of secondary school next year. The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) will complete a technical assessment on the plans to roll out the vaccine to boys in the coming days.

The Minister said those who were not medical professionals should “butt out” of the debate on the safety of the vaccine, which has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Speaking at an event to encourage uptake of the HPV vaccine, Mr Harris said it was “extraordinarily irresponsible” for anyone in public life to cast doubts on the safety of the vaccine.

Sinn Féin presidential candidate Liadh Ní Riada MEP has had to deny she is opposed to the vaccination programme in recent weeks, after a local radio interview she gave in 2016 resurfaced, where she expressed concern over it.

Speaking on Monday, Dr Sean Denyer, interim head of the HSE national immunisation office, said the uptake rate was likely to be “slightly higher” than the provisional figure of 65 per cent.

He said the health service had been “very very worried” about the drastic drop in the number of parents consenting to their daughters receiving the vaccine in recent years.

Information campaigns

Following the reversal of the downward trend, the HSE has been assisting the WHO to help other countries with information campaigns to combat falling vaccination rates.

The lowest uptake rates were in counties Cork and Kerry but Dr Angela O’Leary, who manages the HSE school programme in the region, said vaccination rates had recovered in line with the national average.

The local health service has been receiving calls from parents who initially did not consent for their daughters to get the vaccine, to avail of a “catch up” service, she said.

Laura Brennan, a 25-year-old Co Clare woman who has terminal cervical cancer, appealed for parents with concerns over the vaccine to seek advice from medical professionals. She said no parent would ever want to look their child in the eye and “tell them you could have saved them from a HPV-related cancer”.

“If I could I would sit down with every parent in the country who has to make this decision and tell them what I have gone through, but I’m afraid I don’t have time for that. I’ll probably be dead in a couple of years, robbed of my life, by this horrible preventable disease,” she said.