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The fall in the number of girls receiving the vaccination coincides with a campaign that has challenged the safety of the vaccine and which goes against clinical advice and evidence.
We know that globally, over 600,000 new cancers are caused every year by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). And currently in Ireland there is an unacceptably high number of women and men who are suffering and dying from HPV-related cancers.
HPV is the commonest sexually-transmitted virus and up to 80 per cent of males and females become infected by the age of 50. Persisting infection can lead to cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. In Ireland, up to 300 women will develop cervical cancer each year and up to 100 of these will die. Both male and females can develop HPV-cancer of the anus, mouth, and throat. The earlier sexual contact occurs, the earlier cancer is likely to develop.
The facts are that the HPV vaccine could save over 70 per cent of those lives. It has been proven to be both very safe and very effective and is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It was monitored for safety and efficacy in trials involving almost 30,000 people over seven years before it was licenced. Since then over 200 million people in more than 120 countries have received the vaccine. We know this vaccine has prevented the changes which lead to cancer of the cervix in 75 per cent of those who received it. Its safety has been studied in over one million people and unexpected side effects have not been shown.
The HPV vaccine can cause pain, redness, and swelling in the arm where it was given and can also cause fever, fainting, dizziness, headache, and nausea. These are adverse events caused by the vaccine that are similar to symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but there is no scientific evidence to support a link between the HPV vaccination and developing this syndrome.
Experts in both the WHO and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have looked closely at all reports of adverse events following HPV vaccination, including in Ireland, and found that there is no evidence to show that the vaccine is linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in young girls. Their advice is that it is much safer for girls to get the vaccine than to decline it.
It is important to say that girls who do not receive the HPV vaccine run a greater risk of getting cancers that could have been prevented. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee strongly recommends the HPV vaccination. The benefits of this vaccination far outweigh the risks of possible side effects.
Dr Kevin Connolly,
Chair, National Immunisation Advisory Committee