A junior minister in the Department of Health has performed a U-turn over his opposition to the HPV vaccine used to prevent cervical cancer.
Finian McGrath, the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, told Minister for Health Simon Harris, that he now supports a Government campaign to encourage the take up of the vaccine.
It is understood Mr Harris contacted Mr McGrath after he said he stood over previously expressed opposition to the vaccine.
Mr Harris released a statement saying Mr McGrath had given assurances that “he supports the new campaign to encourage parents to avail of the HPV vaccine which saves lives”.
Government sources said there was annoyance and frustration with Mr McGrath, particularly since his comments came just days after Mr Harris and HSE director general Tony O’Brien launched the high-profile campaign.
The new campaign to promote a vaccination programme for schoolgirls at second level was launched last week.
It also led Alan Kelly, the Labour Party spokesman on health, to say that Mr McGrath's position was untenable unless he changed his views.
“It is completely unacceptable for a minister at the Department of Health to put anti-HPV vaccine on the public record as Minister McGrath has done.
“Can Minister Harris continue to work with Minister McGrath considering his dangerous view on the HPV vaccine?”
Mr McGrath also told the Sunday Times that he disagreed with a statement by Mr Harris that "those who those who wish to scaremonger" about the vaccine should "butt out" unless they were medical professionals. He also said Mr O'Brien was a "bit hard" when he described a campaign supported by Mr McGrath against the vaccine as "emotional terrorism".
In an earlier statement on Sunday – released before the one from Mr Harris – Mr McGrath said he “did raise concerns about it when in Opposition last year”.
“I stand over the fact that I raised it because concerned parents asked me to raise it. Parents have a right to voice any concerns they have relating to vaccines or any form of medication being introduced for their children. Personally and as Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, I do accept that such vaccines are a very important part of Government health strategy.”
The later statement from the Department of Health, however, said that Mr McGrath gave assurances to Mr Harris.
“Minister McGrath assured Minister Harris that he supports the new campaign to encourage parents to avail of the HPV vaccine which saves lives,” the statement said. “And he welcomes the fact the whole purpose of the new campaign is to help inform parents and direct them to medical professionals to have any questions answered and facts provided.
“Ministers Harris and McGrath agree that the people qualified to give advice on vaccines are medical professionals and they would encourage parents to take advice from them.”
Mr Harris added that the “HPV vaccine saves lives and my appeal to parents is simple – get the facts and information from medical experts”.
While in Opposition last year, Mr McGrath asked Leo Varadkar, then minister for health, to support Regret, a group campaigning against the vaccine. He also asked Mr Varadkar to "remove the HPV vaccine Gardasil as a matter of priority".
He told the Sunday Times that his "current position is of course that these concerns have to be examined and looked at carefully".
“I won’t be rowing back from that position because of some of the events internationally.”