The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced that the HPV vaccine will be provided free of charge to all women aged under 25.
Boys and girls in secondary school who were eligible to receive it in first year but missed it because of the pandemic are also eligible for the scheme.
The vaccine substantially cuts the risk of developing cervical cancer and also protects against other HPV related cancers and genital warts - which is why men are offered the vaccine as well.
The vaccine has been licensed since 2006 and since then over 350,000 people in Ireland have received it.
“I have asked the HSE to provide options on how best to introduce a catch-up programme for young women who have now left secondary school and who did not receive the vaccine when they were eligible,” Minister Donnelly said in a statement to the press.
“This is an incredibly effective vaccine and young people should be able to access it. Our goal is to eradicate cervical cancer over time.
“Ireland is the only country in the western world to reverse a crisis in confidence in HPV vaccination.”
The announcement has been enthusiastically welcomed by the Irish Cancer Society, who say the policy will save lives:
“Currently over 300 women get cervical cancer in Ireland every year,” the charity's CEO, Averil Power, explained to Newstalk.
“While both men and women get other cancers caused by HPV and the HPV vaccine can prevent that.
“The Irish Cancer Society has been campaigning for a catch up programme for men and women who didn’t get the vaccine at school and we’re urging that the funding and arrangements are put in place as soon as possible so that everybody can benefit from the life saving protection provided by this vaccine.”
The three dose vaccine costs between €600 and €700 when obtained privately and Ms Power says the cost puts a lot of people off:
“That’s why this programme is so important,” she continued, “in ensuring that anybody who didn’t have an opportunity to avail of the free vaccine at school will now be able to take part in the catch up programme for under 25s that the Minister has announced.”
Main image: A vaccine is given by a healthcare worker. Picture by: Alamy.com