Donnelly: HPV vaccine to be made available free to all women under the age of 25

Donnelly: HPV vaccine to be made available free to all women under the age of 25

Stephen Donnelly: '[HPV] is an incredibly effective vaccine and I would like to see a catch-up programme rolled out as quickly as possible.' Picture: Moya Nolan

The HPV vaccine is to be made available free to all women under 25 to reduce cervical cancer rates, Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, has confirmed.

Mr Donnelly told the Irish Examiner he had written to the HSE telling it to outline a vaccination programme for women and a catch-up programme for girls and boys in secondary schools who missed out during the pandemic.

This follows new advice received from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to “prioritise” women under 25 and current second-level students for the vaccine.

Catch-up vaccination

The advice also said “catch-up vaccination” was recommended for unvaccinated people under 25.

“This is an incredibly effective vaccine and I would like to see a catch-up programme rolled out as quickly as possible,” the minister said.

“We have a number of young women who were offered the HPV vaccine and didn’t take it at the time. 

I think there’s been a really strong response to the power of vaccines now and there are women who are saying they would like the vaccine but it is really expensive to get it privately

Niac is preparing new advice on whether to change from giving three doses of the HPV vaccine to just one, following a similar decision by British health authorities in February.

“We don’t have a date [for expanding the programme] but I am very keen that there is a funded, catch-up programme,” Mr Donnelly said.

Niac is preparing new advice on whether to change from giving three doses of the HPV vaccine to just one.
Niac is preparing new advice on whether to change from giving three doses of the HPV vaccine to just one.

A HSE spokeswoman said it received the correspondence from the minister on Friday. 

“The HSE is working through the minister's request and will respond with a plan when stakeholders have been consulted,” she said.

School vaccination

She said HSE school vaccination teams had already been working with schools to ensure anyone who missed their shot while in first year gets a second opportunity.

In January, the Irish Examiner reported that 11% of women screened for HPV by CervicalCheck were found to have the virus, the first time the programme collated these figures in Ireland.

HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual activity and affects men and women. It is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer, causing changes in cervical cells which if left untreated could lead to cancer.

HRT supply

Meanwhile, four pharmaceutical companies manufacturing HRT products met the minister on Thursday. They said they now have enough product to address shortages which have affected thousands of women recently.

“The suppliers are increasing their supply into the country, they are increasing the buffer,” Mr Donnelly said, referring to stocks held back to meet rises in demand.

“The manufacturers are saying it is here now, it hasn’t always been. Three of the four suppliers were saying they have significant quantities in the country, and they are confident they are able to bring more in.”

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