State defends use of cervical cancer jab

The Department of Health has defended its use of the HPV vaccination programme for young girls after parents told an Oireachtas Committee of “the emotional strain of watching their child struggle to get out of bed to face another day of pain” from alleged side-effects.

The Oireachtas Health Committee heard from representatives of Regret (Reactions and Effects of Gardasil Resulting in Extreme Trauma), who said they represented families of 130 girls suffering a catalogue of illness, including chronic fatigue and headaches, as an alleged reaction to taking the vaccine.

The vaccination programme began in 2010 and the committee heard that 170,000 children have since received it — primarily as Gardasil — as part of the effort to limit the chances of women developing cervical cancer later in life.

The committee was told that 300 cases of cervical cancers are diagnosed each year, with approximately 100 deaths each year from the condition.

Dr Colette Bonner, deputy chief medical officer in the Department of Health, said: “This vaccine could save up to 70% of these women’s lives.”

But Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said he had been told in response to a parliamentary question last month that the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) had received 919 reports of adverse reactions associated with Gardasil, which he said was “not insignificant”.

Karen Smyth, of Regret, claimed her daughter Laura, who received the vaccine in 2010, had missed nearly her entire secondary school education. Describing the range of symptoms Laura has endured since then, Ms Smyth said: “At her lowest point, I found her younger brother Conor spoonfeeding her as she didn’t have the strength to feed herself.”

Calling for an investigation into the vaccine and a fast-tracking of support for the girls suffering ill-health, she said: “There is no support system in place by the Irish Government or the HSE to cater for 130 previously healthy Irish girls, suffering ongoing, chronic and long-term symptoms, post-Gardasil.”

Anna Cannon, another Regret member, raised questions about why the original patient information leaflet was not included alongside consent forms, and said: “We live with the guilt of our decision to sign the Gardasil consent form every day.”

Kevin Connelly, chairman of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), defended the use of the vaccination, and said there needed to be a distinction between “adverse events and adverse reactions”.

Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE said there was no evidence the vaccinations should stop or were unsafe, but he admitted that more needed to be done for the girls in Regret.

Dr Bonner was criticised for strongly advising the families to seek medical advice from their doctors, with Ms Cannon claiming it was “insulting”, adding: “We have exhausted every medical avenue for these girls.”

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