Catch-up HPV vaccines offered as uptake declines

The Irish Cancer Society has warned parents not to be “taken in by the fakery on social media” in relation to the HPV vaccine, as figures show the uptake rate has fallen to 50%.

Dr Robert O’Connor, head of research at the society, said information on the vaccine circulated via social media was “post-truth” and that parents should talk to health professionals rather than accepting what they read online.

“It is absolutely vital that people understand the importance of this vaccine in preventing cervical cancer,” he said.

It has been endorsed by “thousands of regulatory bodies, the US Centre for Disease Control, and the World Health Organisation”, he added.

Dr Brenda Corcoran said the drop in uptake was of serious concern to public health officials.

“Everyone involved in cancer control is very concerned about this,” she said.

With initial figures for the 2016/2017 year indicating a drop to 50% in the uptake rate, down from 87% in 2014/2015, the HSE has written to parents offering their daughters a catch-up opportunity when the immunisation teams return to secondary schools next month to administer the second dose of the vaccine to first-year students.

For girls who did not avail of the September dose, Dr Corcoran said they can be given a second catch-up dose later in the year. She warned girls could miss out on other vital vaccines if they did not present for the HPV vaccine as a tetanus booster is administered with the first dose and a meningococcal C booster with the second.

Dr Corcoran blamed the drop-off in uptake rates on lobby groups claiming that the vaccine caused serious health problems “despite a lack of scientific evidence to back their claims”.

She said sometimes health issues surfaced in girls as they entered puberty, and that hormonal changes were to blame, rather than the vaccine.

“There is no increase in the rate of any long-term medical conditions in girls who have been vaccinated compared to those who haven’t got the vaccine,” she said.

Each year in Ireland, around 300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 90 die from the disease.

More than 6,500 women are diagnosed with precancerous abnormalities of the cervix caused by HPV.

For more information see www.hpv.ie

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