HPV campaigner Laura Brennan’s life-saving work

Uptake of HPV vaccine among teenage girls now at 70% due to advocate’s campaigning

Tributes have been paid to 26-year-old Laura Brennan who died on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Tributes have been paid to 26-year-old Laura Brennan who died on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

About 12 women a year will have been spared death from cervical cancer thanks to the advocacy of Laura Brennan along with other HPV vaccine campaigners, the Irish Cancer Society estimates.

Another 36 women a year will have been spared a cervical cancer diagnosis due to their efforts, says the charity.

The uptake of the vaccine among teenage girls has increased from 51 per cent in 2017 to 70 per cent since Ms Brennan, who died on Wednesday from the disease, offered to advocate publicly for the vaccine.

Uptake dipped before 2017 due to a campaign of opposition by some parents concerned about their daughters’ health, though this had no scientific basis.

At the uptake of 70 per cent, the vaccine is now saving 45 lives a year, and avoiding 135 diagnoses of cervical cancer, according to the society. This compares to 33 lives saved and 99 diagnoses avoided at an uptake of 51 per cent in 2017.

When she first contacted the HSE in September 2017 after receiving a terminal diagnosis, Ms Brennan said she was determined every parent in Ireland facing a decision about vaccinating their daughter against HPV would hear her story first.

In further tributes to the 26-year-old, fellow cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan said her legacy will be to have saved “thousands of lives” with her campaigning.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show, Ms Phelan said the increase in uptake of the HPV vaccine from 51 per cent to 70 per cent was “all down to Laura”.

“I would love to have exact figures for her family. There is no doubt that she will have saved thousands of women from her fate. She didn’t want others to face what she had to.

“I don’t think she realised the effect she had.”

Bravery

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said she was “incredibly generous with her time, even when she knew it was limited.

“Cervical cancer took Laura’s life but her powerful advocacy will save many lives. Her bravery was matched by her determination to prevent others from getting this terrible disease.

Irish Cancer Society chief executive Averil Power said Ms Brennan had used her time to help so many people. “It took a huge amount of courage for her to contact the HSE [to offer to front an HPV vaccine campaign].

“She was determined that no other woman would have to go through what happened to her. She wanted to use her voice to help other women.”

Broadcaster Ryan Tubridy paid an emotional tribute to Ms Brennan on his RTÉ radio show on Thursday morning.

“The words I would use to describe meeting her, because she was so striking, was kindness, and positive and empathetic and warm and relentlessly optimistic despite what she had to face. That’s what made her different.”

A book of condolences has been opened at the offices of Clare County Council. Ms Brennan will be buried after a mass of “remembrance and celebration” at Ennis Cathedral next Wednesday.