Laura Brennan’s story is ‘secret ingredient’ in HPV campaign

‘She was just an ordinary girl facing death from a preventable illness’ – Fergal Brennan

HPV-related cancers can be eliminated within a generation if “we all work together” to reduce misinformation around the vaccine, the brother of a patient advocate has said.

Fergal Brennan, the brother of the late Laura Brennan, the 26-year-old campaigner who died from cervical cancer in March, said ensuring parents are given the right information about vaccines should be a priority.

"Campaigning and sharing her story in Ireland and internationally is supporting parents to make the choice to protect our future generations from getting HPV-related cancers," Mr Brennan said at the Global Vaccination Summit in Brussels on Thursday.

“Right now in Ireland, parents of 60,000 12- and 13-year-olds are making up their minds about whether to consent to their son or daughter getting the HPV vaccine. Getting the correct information out there to parents should be prioritised,” he added.


The uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased by around 20 per cent in recent years, from an all-time low of 50 per cent in 2017 to 70 per cent in March 2019.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said at the time that the rising number of people getting the vaccine was a testament to Ms Brennan's campaign.

Mr Brennan believes that Laura’s story was the “secret ingredient” that was needed for parents to see the “reality of an unvaccinated child”.

“This was an ambitious, clever and very determined young girl who had carved out a happy and successful career, she didn’t dwell on her fate though. People heard Laura speak, or saw her on television, and imagined her being their daughter or their sister or their friend,” he said.

“In essence, she was just an ordinary girl facing death from a preventable illness and that was one of the reasons she was hard to ignore. Laura gave this horrible illness that is cervical cancer a powerful, relatable and beautiful face,” he added.

Mr Brennan concluded by saying that he and his family will continue to spread Laura’s message and encourage parents to consent to their children receiving the jab.

“Laura has passed her torch to us all, her family, and it is our job to carry that torch and shining light of truth and create a future for the next generation that is free from harmful strains of HPV and the devastation that they cause,” he said.

Infection with HPV is implicated in a number of cancers, including cervical, vaginal, anal and penile cancer, as well as anogenital warts.

From this month, the HPV vaccine is being rolled out to boys for the first time. The vaccination has also been offered to HIV-positive men and women under the age of 26 since 2016 through HIV clinics.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times