The HSE has announced a scaled-up campaign to encourage parents to ensure their daughters get the HPV vaccine.
Minister for Health Simon Harris is attending the launch of the 2017/18 schools HPV programme, designed to encourage up to 40,000 first-year students to get the vaccine.
The uptake of the vaccine has plummeted, from a high of 87 per cent to just 50 per cent last year, because of opposition from a number of parents’ groups.
They claim, with no supporting scientific evidence, that their daughters have suffered chronic ill-health after receiving the vaccine. The vaccine saves lives by preventing the most common strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
As part of the campaign, more than 40,000 information packs will be delivered across the State this week in advance of HSE vaccination teams starting their scheduled post-primary school visits in September, when first year girls will get the first of two doses of the vaccine.
Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, HSE National Director, Health and Wellbeing says the HSE remains concerned about the drop in uptake but adds that provisional data from April shows some stabilisation occurring this year.
“Although this information is provisional, and we remain very concerned at the current rates, it does tell us that parents would seem to be hearing the message that this vaccine is safe and effective – it offers their daughters a life without cervical cancer.”
Prof Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said: “Over 230,000 girls in Ireland have safely received the HPV vaccine, along with 227 million people worldwide in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Not one of these people anywhere in the world has been medically proven to have had a long term side effect from getting the vaccine.
“This is a vaccine that can save lives. It works. In Scotland where their vaccination programme has been in place since 2008, they have seen a 90 per cent decrease in HPV infections. In Australia the vaccine has prevented one in every two new cervical cancers.”
Regret, one of the groups opposing the vaccine, has called for an independent investigation of its claims that more than 400 Irish girls have suffer “chronic cluster symptoms” after taking the vaccine.
The group, which describes itself as a “parent-led support group”, is also calling for the product information leaflet for the Gardasil vaccine to be included in HSE information packs distributed in schools.