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The vaccine saves lives by preventing the most common strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Announcing the commencement of the Schools Programme, Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, HSE National Director, Health and Wellbeing, confirmed that over 40,000 information packs will be delivered across the country this week in advance of the 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 O’Keeffe stated: “We know that there are many conflicting and misleading sources of information out there. The only Irish website containing information that has been formally accredited by the World Health Organisation is hpv.ie. We strongly urge all parents, teenagers, and interested parties to visit this trusted source where they will learn about the vaccine – how it saves lives and its excellent safety record. Their local vaccination teams are there to support them and answer any questions, along with their local GPs and local pharmacists.”
While the HSE remains concerned regarding the significant drop in uptake rates that has occurred over the past two years, with rates dropping from 90 per cent to around 50 per cent last year, provisional HSE data from April this year showed some stabilisation occurring.
According to Dr O’Keeffe: “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.”
Addressing today’s launch, Prof Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, Clinical Professor of Paediatrics, Consultant Paediatrician and Infectious Diseases Specialist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, stressed: “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.”
According to Prof Grainne Flannelly, Clinical Director CervicalCheck and Consultant Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, National Maternity Hospital, Holles St: “Ireland has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in Western Europe. Every year over 90 women die from cervical cancer. Over 280 women – many young – need treatment for invasive cervical cancer. Over 6,500 women will need hospital treatment for a precancerous form of cervical cancer.
“As a consultant gynaecologist, I see all too frequently the impact of HPV infections and the reality of cervical cancer. The evidence for the vaccine is compelling. We have a very real possibility now of eliminating cervical cancer in future generations of Irish women. But to achieve that we need urgently to address our uptake rates and restore them to provide protection.”
Endorsing the Information Campaign, HSE Director General, Mr Tony O’Brien noted: “The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that vaccine hesitancy is one of the top three issues for health in Europe. That is despite the fact that the World Health Organisation and the European Commission said that in the last 60 years vaccines have saved more children’s lives than any other intervention. I am here today to support Irish parents in accessing information from trusted, scientific and evidence based sources like hpv.ie. and getting their daughters vaccinated.”
The HSE is today launching an Information Campaign – part of its ongoing work to inform and support parents. The Executive said updated information packs have been sent to all parents, with the time provided to parents to give their consent extended. At the same time, the HSE is promoting new and informative videos online and on social media, where much of the misinformation about the vaccine circulates.
The schedule also involves three weeks of national and regional radio advertising, starting today, along with social media promotion, digital search advertising and organic social media posts on Facebook and Twitter.
Dr O’Keeffe today thanked all partner organisations who have been promoting the HPV vaccine through the Irish Cancer Society’s HPV Alliance: “We want to thank in particular the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Irish Pharmacy Union for joining us in support of the vaccine by providing advice to parents and girls, and by displaying new HPV vaccine posters in GP practices and pharmacies throughout the country.”
The vaccine is endorsed by major medical and scientific bodies worldwide including the World Health Organisation, the Centres for Disease Control in the US, the EU-funded European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.