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The preliminary figures of the HPV vaccine uptake rate is 11 per cent higher than last year, according to the HSE National Immunisation office.

The end of March saw the HSE launching the next phase of the HPV Vaccine Information Campaign, with the aim of supporting parents in making an informed decision to ensure their daughters get the vaccine and get protected from cervical cancer.

The launch coincided with the return of the HSE vaccination teams to second level schools to administer the second dose of the vaccine to first year girls: preliminary figures have shown that the majority of girls have received the first dose of the vaccine in the 2017/18 programme.

Dr Brenda Corcoran, Head of the HSE National Immunisation Office, commented: “We have seen a national uptake rate of around 62 per cent –  eleven per cent higher than our preliminary figure from last year of  51 per cent.

“That means that nearly two out of every three girls are now receiving the HPV vaccine which is really good news.This is really significant for the many groups and individuals who continue to ensure that the correct message is heard.  We were particularly encouraged by the positive feedback we received from our vaccination teams in all areas of the country in relation to their interaction with the girls and their parents last September”.

The HSE Information Campaign is encouraging parents whose daughters have not had the vaccine but are still in second level schools to contact their local vaccination teams and join the ‘catch-up’ programme which will be available in schools over the coming weeks.

The campaign will feature videos of individuals who volunteered to become involved in the first phase of the campaign launched last August, such as twenty-five-year-old Laura Brennan from Co Clare. She discusses her experience of cervical cancer, which for Laura is now a life limiting condition, in the hopes that her story will encourage parents to be informed and get their daughters vaccinated.

Laura said: “I made contact with the HSE after I had been diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. I’m only 25 but there is no treatment that will cure my cancer, only treatment that will now prolong my life. I didn’t get the HPV vaccine – it wasn’t available in schools when I was a teenager so my parents didn’t have the choice.

“The reality is that now there is a vaccine that protects girls from getting this horrible disease. No parent wants their daughter to get cervical cancer.  If anything good comes from my situation, I hope that parents consider this – get the facts, get informed and make the decision to get their daughters vaccinated. The HPV vaccine saves lives. It could have saved mine”.

300 women develop cervical cancer in Ireland annually, and 90 women die from it; the HPV vaccine is said to protect against seven out of ten cancer causing HPV virus types and the vaccines are at their most effective when given at the age of 12 to 13 years to provide protection throughout adulthood.

Professor Grainne Flannelly, Consultant Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, and Medical Director of CervicalCheck, noted: “As a Consultant Gynaecologist I see all too frequently the impact of HPV infections and the reality of cervical cancer. The evidence for the vaccine is compelling.

“We have a very real possibility now of eliminating cervical cancer in future generations of Irish women.  But to achieve that we need to maintain our momentum in addressing our uptake rates and continue to restore them to where they were three years ago”.

Countries with high vaccine uptake rates have seen the greatest impact; in Australia (where the vaccine was first introduced in 2007) the vaccine has prevented one in every two new cervical cancers and there has been a 90 per cent fall in HPV infections in vaccinated girls.

Precancerous growths of the cervix have been reduced by more than 50 per cent in countries such as Australia and Sweden, and in Scotland, where 90 per cent of girls have been vaccinated since 2008.

The latest WHO safety statement on the HPV vaccine stated that since 2006, over 270 million doses of the vaccine have been administered worldwide.  They have assessed the vaccine as “extremely safe”.

In Ireland over 230,000 girls have been vaccinated and the HSE have stated that none have been found to have any long term side effects as a result of receiving the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is endorsed by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), the Irish Pharmacy Union, and the Irish Cancer Society’s HPV Alliance, in addition to major international medical and scientific bodies, including the World Health Organization, the Centres for Disease Control in the USA, the EU funded European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.