Kilkenny sees worrying fall in uptake of life-saving cancer vaccine

Mary Cody

Reporter:

Mary Cody

Email:

mary.cody@kilkennypeople.ie

Kilkenny sees worrying fall in uptake of life-saving cancer 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 i

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 Carlow/Kilkenny region has seen one of the steepest drops 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 208 Carlow and Kilkenny schoolgirls declined the offer of the free vaccine. This meant just 80.6% of girls eligible to receive the vaccine in Carlow and Kilkenny actually got it, down from 90.4% the previous year.

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

At the 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 www.hpvalliance.ie