Laois and Offaly See Worrying Fall In Uptake Of Life-Saving Cancer Vaccine

The dramatic fall in the uptake of a cancer-preventing vaccine requires urgent action for it to be addressed, the newly-formed HPV Vaccination Alliance has said.

The Laois/Offaly region has seen a steep drop in uptake of the HPV vaccine, which protects against the strains of Human Papilloma Virus which cause seven in ten cases of cervical cancer in women. In the 2015/2016 school year 264 Laois/Offaly schoolgirls declined the offer of the free vaccine. This meant just 76.6% of girls eligible to receive the vaccine in Laois and Offaly actually got it, down from 90.6% the previous year.*

Laois and Offaly See Worrying Fall In Uptake Of Life-Saving Cancer Vaccine

On Wednesday, 9 August members of the HPV Vaccination Alliance gathered to sign a Contract Against Cancer and ensure the facts prevail when it comes to the HPV vaccine. Left to Right: Tanya Ward, Chief Executive, Children’s Rights Alliance; Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy, Irish Cancer Society; Niamh Murtagh, Vice President for Welfare, Union of Students in Ireland; and Orla O’Connor, Director, National Women’s Council of Ireland. Photo credit: Justin Mac Innes Photography.

Provisional figures show that uptake fell even more sharply in 2016/2017, falling to as low as 50% nationally.

In response, more than 30 organisations, including leading health, children and women’s groups, have come together to express their alarm at this dramatic and life-threatening fall in numbers.

This year alone, up to 420 people in Ireland will be diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection. Almost 300 of these will be cervical cancer cases. A further 6,500 women will need hospital treatment to remove precancerous growths in their cervix caused by HPV.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death due to cancer in women aged 25 to 39. In 2017, more than 90 Irish women will die from cervical cancer and those who survive will need intensive treatment, such as surgery, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy, to help them overcome this invasive disease. This treatment almost always results in infertility.

This new school term around 30,000 first-year secondary school girls will be offered the vaccine as part of a national vaccination programme which began in 2010. While national uptake of the vaccine reached a high of 87% in the 2014/2015 academic year, in just two years this has fallen to 50%, largely due to misinformation about the vaccine spreading on social media.

Last year’s low uptake will result in a minimum of 40 deaths. Another 100 girls will need life-changing treatment and 1,000 more will need invasive therapy.

In coming together, the HPV Vaccination Alliance is unequivocal: the HPV vaccine is safe and saves lives. To highlight this, Alliance member organisations have signed a Contract Against Cancer.

Under the Contract, the HPV Vaccination Alliance:

ENDORSES the HPV vaccine as a proven and safe way to protect from cancers which can destroy and end lives.

REALISES its obligation to do all we can to protect health and wellbeing by ensuring the facts prevail when it comes to the HPV vaccine.

PLEDGES to raise awareness of the HPV vaccine and its benefits in stopping cancer and saving lives.

The ability to spare our country’s children and adults the devastation of a cancer diagnosis can become a reality. The Alliance believes it has a duty to act urgently to prevent future hardship and save lives.

At today’s launch of the Alliance, Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, said:

“When it comes to the HPV vaccine, the jury is in – the vaccine is safe and saves lives. The Irish Cancer Society has been vocal on this issue for quite some time.

“It’s only natural that parents are fearful when they hear claims about a vaccine. It’s terrible that young girls get sick, but to link their illness to a life-saving vaccine when all the research shows no link is dangerous and threatens lives.

“Large studies looking at 3-4 million women, vaccinated and unvaccinated, found no evidence whatsoever that HPV vaccination causes any immune or nervous system disorder.  The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have concluded that the injection is safe and has no link to any serious illnesses.

“All the evidence does show, however, that the vaccine prevents cervical cancer. That’s why the decision parents make now on the vaccine can have serious consequences for their daughters.”

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), added:

“At our most recent AGM, NWCI members voted to fully support all efforts around increasing the uptake of the HPV vaccine. We see this issue as hugely concerning for women’s health.”

“Not only does cervical cancer kill 90 women in Ireland each year, it leaves many more infertile due to the side effects of harsh and invasive medical treatment for the disease. These are lasting consequences which young women – and their parents – will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

“No woman should have the choice of having a biological family taken away from them because they did not receive a safe and life-saving vaccine. That’s why it’s important that we do all we can to ensure the public know all the facts about the HPV vaccine.”

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, added:

“We are calling on the parents of Ireland to consent to the vaccine to protect the health of their daughters. The vaccine is free, safe and may save their daughters’ lives.

“We have joined forces with the partners of the HPV Vaccination Alliance to encourage uptake in the coming school year and going forwards. We need to separate facts from fiction and ensure the message is spread that this vaccine is potentially life-saving.”

For more information on the HPV Vaccination Alliance and its Contract Against Cancer, please see

About HPV

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the name for a large group of related but different viruses, approximately 170 of which are known to infect humans. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Most people never know that they have been infected and may give HPV to a partner without knowing it.

Sometimes, however, HPV infections will persist and can cause certain pre-cancers, cancers and other diseases. Approximately 18 types of HPV are thought to cause:

  • Pre-cancerous cervical lesions (so-called abnormal cells), which will affect 1 in 10 Irish women in their lifetime;
  • cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women;
  • cancers of the penis in men; and
  • cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx) in women and men.

More information on HPV-caused cancers can be found in this infographic and in the National Cancer Registry Ireland ‘Cancer Trends’ Report on HPV-Associated Cancers.

About HPV vaccination

Since 2010, all first year girls in secondary schools in Ireland have been offered HPV vaccination for free under the national HPV Vaccination Programme, which is delivered in their school. To date (March 2017), 660,000 doses of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil 4, have been administered to secondary school girls and over 220,000 girls have been fully vaccinated. Gardasil 4 protects against the strains of HPV which cause seven in ten of all cervical cancers.

Research by multiple independent, international experts analysing 80 million people who have been vaccinated worldwide has found the HPV vaccine to be safe. Over 200 million doses of the HPV vaccine Gardasil have been distributed globally, either as part of national immunisation programmes or by private doctors. Gardasil is currently used in over 25 European countries, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The vaccine is licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority in Ireland and the European Medicines Agency. These agencies have strict procedures for the licensing and ongoing monitoring of all vaccines to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

The World Health Organisation Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety (GACVS) has reviewed the evidence on the safety of Gardasil vaccine. The WHO concluded in December 2015 that Gardasil continues to have an excellent safety profile. In November 2015 the European Medicines Agency (EMA) reported on a review of HPV vaccines. This report found no evidence the vaccine was linked to chronic fatigue like conditions. The US Center for Disease Control recommends that boys and girls get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV.

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