WHO fear over fall in HPV take up

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has joined the chorus of concern at the steep decline in uptake rates in Ireland for the HPV vaccine, which helps protect against cervical cancer.

Robb Butler, head of vaccine preventable diseases and immunisation at WHO/Europe, said the decline is “particularly alarming given Ireland boasted the world’s most successful HPV vaccination programmes globally just a few years ago”.

Mr Butler, who was addressing the HSE national HPV conference in Dublin yesterday, said the WHO stood “with the many health bodies and agencies in Ireland in their ongoing efforts to see this worrisome trend reversed and the campaign of misinformation ceased”.

“The victims of the decisions made today will be those whose families are affected by cervical cancer that could have been prevented,” said Mr Butler.

The HSE’s uptake target is 87%, which it reached in 2014/15. However, most recent estimates put the take-up rate at around 50%.

Dr Brenda Corcoran, head of the HSE national immunisation office, said initial data from March/April shows that the drop in uptake has stabilised.

She said: “Although this information is provisional, and we remain very concerned at the current rates, it does tell us that more parents would seem to be hearing the message that this vaccine is safe and effective.

“It’s comforting to know there’s a bit of stabilisation, but it’s way too early to say that the tide has turned.”

Dr Kevin Pollock, senior epidemiologist from Health Protection Scotland, said its most recent research shows a 90% decrease in HPV infections in Scotland because it has consistently achieved HPV vaccine uptake of more than 85% since the vaccine was introduced in 2008.

Scottish researchers compared the cervical screening and vaccination records of women born in 1995, who were vaccinated as teenagers, with those from unvaccinated women born between 1989 and 1990.

They found just 0.5% of women from the 1995 group tested positive for the virus, compared with 21.4% of women born before 1990.

The study also showed evidence that the vaccine protected against three other high-risk HPV genotypes involved in the development of cervical cancer.

Dr Angela O’Leary, principal medical officer, said there was an increase in uptake rates following the second offer of the vaccine (in March) in Cork and Kerry.

She said: “Preliminary figures show that the HPV uptake increased by up to 5% (from 40%) in Cork and Kerry which is good news.”

More than 200,000 girls in Ireland have received the HPV vaccine. It was introduced to the HSE Schools Immunisation programme in 2010.

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