HPV vaccine uptake increases following information campaign

HSE say the figures represent success of tackling “misinformation” around vaccine

Uptake of the cervical cancer vaccine has increased from 50 to 61 per cent this year following a large drop in the number of young girls availing of it.

In the 2014/15 school year 87 per cent of girls aged 12 to 13 received the vaccine but this fell sharply to 50 per cent last year.

Provisional Health Service Executive (HSE) figures from this autumn show the downward trend has been reversed, following a large information campaign addressing concerns around the vaccine.

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

Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE, said the recovery in the vaccination rate was “very encouraging”.

The figures illustrate that “parents are seeking advice from trusted sources and recognising the life saving value of this vaccine for their daughters,” he said.

Dr Brenda Corcoran, head of the HSE’s national immunisation office, said it was “extremely unusual to reverse a downturn in vaccination uptake, and so quickly.” She said a huge amount of work from healthcare professionals had been put into tackling anti-vaccine “misinformation” spread about the HPV injection.

The HSE ran a large information campaign backed by the World Health Organisation to dispel fears around the vaccine over the last number of months.

Regret, the main group in Ireland campaigning against the Gardasil vaccine, represent the families of several young girls who claim they developed side-effects such as chronic fatigue after receiving the treatment.

Minister for Health Simon Harris and the HSE have said there is no link between the vaccine and reported side effects and the illnesses experienced by the girls develop around the same age at which they receive the vaccine.

Mr Harris tweeted in response to the figure on Sunday that there was “no room for complacency. Must continue to debunk myths.”

Vaccination rates increased across the State, including in areas with the lowest level of uptake - parts of Cork and Kerry.

The HSE offers the vaccine to girls in their first year of secondary school, but will now also offer the treatment to anyone who opted out of receiving the vaccine previously “for parents who change their mind,” Dr Corcoran said.

“We were up at 87 per cent so we still have work to do” she added.