Parents who previously refused the HPV vaccine for their daughters are now requesting that it be given, according to the HSE.
Older teenagers are taking up the vaccine to help prevent cervical cancer following a campaign that has also seen a major reversal of falling uptake among girls in second-level schools.
As Health Minister Simon Harris again urged parents to have their daughters vaccinated this autumn, the HSE reported that 65% of eligible first-year students got the vaccine during the last school year.
While there is still a considerable way to go to return to the uptake levels before concerns emerged about the effects of the HPV vaccine, it represents a 15% increase on uptake among first-year students the year before. From over 80% uptake every year since the HPV vaccination programme was introduced in 2010, rates fell to 72% in the 2015/16 school year and to just 50% the next year.
The provisional figures released by the HSE say 65% of girls took it up in the schools vaccination programme under which it is offered to all first-year female students. The data is provisional and further validation of returns could see the rate increase slightly.
In addition, the HSE reported that some older girls have also been availing of the vaccine through a catch-up facility available to anyone who might have hesitated previously.
“We have had a significant number of requests from parents who had previously refused the vaccination for their daughters,” said Angela O’Leary, principal medical officer for community healthcare in Cork and Kerry.
Dr O’Leary’s and other regional vaccination teams have worked with parents and schools in the past year reassure them about the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety.
The declines in uptake were prompted by what the HSE says were unfounded vaccine safety concerns following reports of adverse reactions to the Gardasil vaccine used. The HSE repeated yesterday that there is no scientific evidence of an increase in the incidence of chronic fatigue syndrome or any other long-term medical condition in vaccinated girls compared to those who are not vaccinated.
Mr Harris said prevention is better than cure and this is particularly true of cervical cancer.
“We are lucky to have a vaccine that can potentially prevent 70% of cervical cancers,” he said. “This very welcome increase [in uptake] reflects the huge amount of work being done across the medical community, including school vaccination teams, GPs, and pharmacists, to provide accurate and trusted information.”