Tributes have been paid to HPV vaccine campaigner Laura Brennan, who has died from cervical cancer at the age of 26.
In 2017 Ms Brennan contacted the HSE following her diagnosis to offer her help in promoting the vaccine, which she was too old to receive when it was first introduced to Irish schools.
Ms Brennan’s family confirmed that the Clare native died in University Hospital Limerick yesterday.
“Laura was a light in the life of everyone who knew her; a wonderful daughter, sister and friend. We are lost without her,” said the Brennan family in a statement.
“We are all incredibly proud of the work she did in the last 18 months to help protect other young women like herself from the cancer that has taken her life today.
“Laura used her voice, her generosity and her energy to help parents to make informed choices and protect their daughters from cervical cancer.
She wanted to make a difference, and use the time that she had to right what she felt was a great wrong.
Clare County Council has announced it will open a book of condolences following Ms Brennan’s death.
Health Minister Simon Harris said he was “deeply saddened to learn of Laura’s passing”.
“Laura was an incredible young woman and a powerful campaigner,” said Mr Harris.
“Despite her illness, she continued her advocacy and, thanks in no small part to her sheer determination, the uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased among young women. The State owes her a debt of gratitude.
“As a person, she was kind, funny, and full of life. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Every time I met Laura or spoke with her, I was inspired by her. ‘Amazing’ doesn’t do justice to her or her courage. I want to extend my deepest condolences to her family and friends,” said Mr Harris.
The HSE said over 22,000 girls got the HPV vaccine this month, and that the uptake of the vaccine has increased almost 20 percentage points since Ms Brennan contacted them, from 51% in 2017 to 70% now.
Anne O’Connor, interim HSE director general, said the HSE feels “immense gratitude and admiration for her and her family”.
“Laura has defined courage and generosity as she supported our work to ensure girls get the HPV vaccine, and are protected from this terrible cancer,” said Ms O’Connor.
“Laura came forward when she was first diagnosed with terminal cancer and our mission became hers. We know that Laura has made a difference, and will have saved lives through her great effort and her tremendous generosity of spirit.”
Irish Cancer Society Paul Connors, HSE National Director of Communications, said Ms Brennan, her parents, and brothers “have given everyone in Ireland a remarkable gift”.
“At a moment when her time was most precious, she chose to stand in the public eye and tell her story, in order to help others. She has reached many thousands of families, through her remarkable videos as part of our advertising campaign, by telling her story in the media on television, radio, print and online, and by speaking at events all over the country,” he said.
Chief executive Averil Power said Ms Brennan “showed tremendous strength and bravery in talking about her cervical cancer”.
“Her selfless honesty inspired us all. Through her steadfast determination she influenced parents to make an informed decision to give their daughters the HPV vaccine and protect them against an illness which was to take her life. Laura’s legacy is already clear.
"In many homes across the country, parents will have her to thank for saving their daughters’ lives.
“Through vaccination and the best possible screening programme for women, Ireland can potentially eliminate cervical cancer within a generation. In memory of Laura and her tireless work, we must work towards this goal with more determination than ever,” said Ms Power.