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The figures were supplied by Dr Brenda Corcoran from the HSE’s National Immunisation Office in an interview with the Medical Independent (MI).
“The target uptake is 80 per cent. The most recent published information is for 2014/2015 and the uptake was 87 per cent and some parts of the country actually achieved over 90 per cent, so there was kind of a universal acceptance of the vaccine,” said Dr Corcoran. “That figure was the highest recorded.”
However, the last two years has seen a very significant fall in the uptake level, a fact that is causing “huge concern” for the National Immunisation Office.
“… the preliminary figures we have for 2015/2016 show that the uptake is about 70 per cent,” revealed Dr Corcoran. “It has reduced in some areas more than others.”
With the recent start of the new school year, this downward trajectory in HPV vaccine uptake appears to be continuing, she confirmed.
“And the information we have so far for the HPV vaccine programme to date this year, which is 2016/2017, is that the uptake is even less than that [70 per cent].
“So that is a huge concern to us, but also to cancer specialists who really are very, very fearful that we won’t see the impact of the vaccine programme and women will be left at risk.”
A HSE spokesperson added that the “significant decline in uptake” in HPV vaccination in 2015/2016 “varies across the country, with some western and southern counties most affected. This is of great concern to all those involved in cancer prevention.”
The National Immunisation Office, the Department of Health, the HSE, the Minister for Health, the IMO and the Irish Cancer Society, among others, have forcefully defended the safety and positive impact of the vaccine. However, in recent years concerns over alleged side-effects of the vaccine have been raised by groups like REGRET and other campaigners.
“Media attention has focused almost completely on risks, with little or no consideration given to the known benefits of vaccines, leading to health scares and reducing public confidence in the benefits of vaccination,” a Department of Health spokesperson told MI.
“Uptake rates for all of Ireland’s vaccination remain high — close to 95 per cent for most childhood immunisation programmes. However, recent publicity linking HPV vaccine to a number of conditions in girls, in spite of significant evidence showing no links, can be expected to impact negatively on uptake rates.”
The spokesperson told MI that “this issue has not been formally raised at Cabinet”.
See news analysis, pages 12-14