New alliance to tackle "unsubstantiated concerns" over HPV vaccine

The groups have come together after a "misinformation campaign" led to a huge drop-off in uptake

New alliance to tackle "unsubstantiated concerns" over HPV vaccine

From L to R Tanya Ward (Childrens Rights Alliance), Donal Buggy (Irish Cancer Society) and Orla O'Connor (National Womens Council of Ireland) at the launch of the HPV Vaccination Alliance. Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews

Over 30 Irish organisations have come together to form an alliance aiming to boost the uptake of the HPV vaccine.

The HPV Vaccination Alliance includes a range of leading health groups and organisations advocating women’s and children’s rights.

It has been set up ahead of the school year and will call on parents and teenagers to examine the facts surrounding the life-saving vaccine.

The groups have come together to sign a ‘Contract against Cancer’ after the HSE warned that a misinformation campaign has seen a huge drop in the uptake of the vaccine among teenage girls.

The figure dropped to a low of 50% in September and October last year – from a high of 87% in 2015.

Alarming drop-off

Both the government and the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) have warned that at least 40 women will die as a result of the falling uptake.

The ICS said the fall-off will also see 100 women needing life-saving treatment - with a further 1,000 requiring invasive surgery.

“Donal Buggy, ICS head of services and advocacy said the vaccine is safe - and what doctors have been waiting for when it comes to cancer prevention.

“We have always looked for a cure for cancer and everyone talks about, ‘when will we get the cure,’” he said.

“Now there isn’t one singular cure – but this particular cancer, we can cure many cases through vaccination.”

Human papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts.

The vaccine Gardasil protects against both.

Health officials have blamed the drop-off in uptake to "unsubstantiated concerns" spread by anti-vaccine groups.

Campaigners against the drug have claimed it causes seizures and joint pain.

REGRET, a campaign group representing 350 young Irish women say they are certain that the vaccine caused them to become unwell.

Medical experts

The group's claims have been rejected by medical experts and the HSE - and the vaccine has been endorsed as safe by the European Medicines Agency and the European Commission.

While health authorities are not denying that girls have experienced illnesses, they have warned repeatedly that there is no evidence linking their symptoms to the vaccine.

Parents are being urged to get their facts from the Irish Cancer Society and the HSE - and not through social media.

Orla O’Connor from the National Women’s Council or Ireland said it is vital that parents ensure their teenagers get the free life-saving vaccine.

“This is unequivocally a safe vaccine,” she said. “It will save live and it is really important that young people get vaccinated now.”

Marginalised communities

New figures from the Irish medical journal also show that girls in disadvantaged areas are least likely to get the vaccine; one of the key areas the campaign will focus on will be bringing facts to marginalised areas.

Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance said the group will be working hard across the country to ensure parents have all the facts.

“We need to get to parents, particularly those where vaccination rates have fallen in some marginalised communities,” she said.

30,000 girls will be offered the vaccine this term – and there will also be another chance for those who decided not to get it last year.