National immunisation chief urges women to take CervicalCheck exam

Call to book consultations – shelved due to pandemic – comes after UK study on HPV vaccine

Director of public health at the National Immunisation Office Lucy Jessop has called on women who deferred their CervicalCheck examination because of Covid-19 to come forward for an appointment.

Dr Jessop was commenting following a UK report that indicates an almost 90 per cent reduction in cervical cancer since the introduction of HPV vaccines.

Speaking on RTÉ radio's News at One, she said results from the UK study were "very good news". The reductions were among women who had been vaccinated at aged 12 to 13 years, which was the same age for vaccinations in Ireland.

“It really underlies how important it is for parents to come forward and vaccinate their children when they are in first year of secondary school,” she said.

When asked if the vaccine available in Ireland was the same as in the UK, Dr Jessop replied that the vaccine now used in Ireland would probably produce even better results.

"In England they used a vaccine called Cervarix which only protects against two types of the HPV causing cancers. In Ireland, we started our programme in 2010, but we've been using HPV4 which protects against two types of HPV that cause cancer and two types that cause genital warts; and now we're using HPV9 which actually protects against seven of the most common strains that cause HPV-related cancers. We're using a vaccine that is even more effective than the vaccine used in the UK."

Effective vaccine

Dr Jessop said there had been similar studies elsewhere in Europe, but that it took time to develop cervical-cancer studies. The UK study supported other evidence about the effectiveness of the vaccine in protecting against cervical cancer.

“It is the backbone of the World Health Organisation’s [WHO] global cervical cancer elimination strategy to make sure that we have high uptake of HPV vaccines.

“The uptake [in Ireland] is very good. We started in 2010 when the uptake was very good in girls, then in 2019 we offered the vaccine to both boys and girls because it doesn’t just cause cervical cancer, it causes other cancers – for example, mouth and throat that also affect boys and also genital warts. It’s very important now that we offer it to boys and girls in first year [of secondary school].

“In that first year that we offered the vaccine [to boys and girls] we had an uptake of the first dose of 82 per cent and the second dose of 76 per cent, that was the time when school buildings were starting to close because of Covid-19 so some of the school teams are still catching up, some of those children that might not have been able to come forward for their second dose of vaccine.”

The WHO target for the vaccine was 80 per cent “so we’re around that again for this new programme for boys and girls. If parents have not been able to get vaccinated because of school closures they can still come forward if they were a first year last year and have not yet been vaccinated.”

Dr Jessop said that cervical screening was still very important and was available from the age of 25.

“It has been changed recently to HPV primary screening; it’s very important that women come forward for HPV screening. Maybe because of Covid some women may have been pushing that screening off, [but] it’s really important that they get that appointment if they know they’re overdue for a screening.”