Concerns raised as 5,000 fewer girls receive HPV vaccine

HSE criticises ‘unsubstantiated’ concerns over safety of cervical cancer vaccination

Gardasil, a vaccine against cervical cancer. Photograph: AFP/ Getty Images

Gardasil, a vaccine against cervical cancer. Photograph: AFP/ Getty Images

 

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has expressed concern over a significant decline in uptake of the HPV vaccine, which it blames on “unsubstantiated” concerns over its safety.

The HSE has urged parents to protect their daughters against cervical cancer by ensuring they receive the vaccine currently being administered to first-year students.

About 5,000 fewer girls received the vaccine last year compared to the previous year, according to preliminary figures from the school immunisation programme.

The vaccine is safe and “a real life-saver”, according to the head of the HSE National Immunisation Office, Dr Breda Corcoran. Cervical cancer kills 90 Irish women a year, she pointed out.

The drop, which is being blamed on a sustained campaign against the vaccine by the Regret group, is causing widespread alarm among health professionals. Uptake of the vaccine reached a record 87 percent of eligible girls in 2014/2015 but is thought to have fallen since.

Dr Corcoran said the decline in uptake since then is most pronounced in Western and Southern counties. “This decline may be related to unsubstantiated concerns about HPV vaccine safety which have no scientific basis.”

Regret (Reactions and Effects of Gardasil resulting in Extreme Trauma) represents over 350 young Irish women who it says have developed long-term side effects following vaccination. It claims recipients developed seizures, fatigue and joint pain after immunisation.

The vaccine has been monitored for over 10 years by the World Health Organisation, the European Medicines Agency and other bodies, said Dr Corcoran.

“A number of syndromes and symptoms have been reported from small groups of families of girls across the globe,” she said.

“The symptoms reported can be very serious and consequential for those girls. The symptoms can often be hard to medically define.

“However, very careful and detailed analysis of reports of these conditions by independent national and international agencies analysing the millions of people who have been vaccinated to date has found that there is no difference in the rates of these illnesses between vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

“While there is no question that these illnesses are real and devastating for those affected, there is no medical or scientific evidence to support assertions of a link between these illnesses which arise in the whole population and the administration of the HPV or any other vaccine.”

More than 100 million people have been vaccinated with HPV vaccines worldwide. In Ireland more than 220,000 girls have been vaccinated.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women aged 25 to 39 years. About 280 women a year require intensive treatment to overcome the disease and 6,500 need hospital treatment to remove pre-cancerous growths.