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Minister Finian McGrath has made assurances that he is fully behind the new HPV vaccination campaign following a report in the Sunday Times that highlighted concerns he had previously raised over the vaccine, Gardasil.

During his time in Opposition last year, Mr McGrath requested that the then Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, remove the HPV vaccine Gardasil “as a matter of priority” and asked him to support the group Regret who a campaign against the vaccine.

Last week, the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues called for the dismissal of the Director General of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, after Mr O’Brien accused groups who were opposing HPV vaccinations of “emotional terrorism”.

Minister McGrath expressed his outrage at Mr O’Brien’s comments: “This is a pathetic and brutalising assault on all those parents and children who, from Mr O’Brien’s perspective, have had the temerity to raise questions about the effectiveness and impact of the Gardasil vaccine”.

However, after conferring with Minister Harris on Sunday, a statement was released claiming: “Minister McGrath assured Minister Harris that he supports the new campaign to encourage parents to avail of the HPV vaccine which saves lives and he welcomes the fact the whole purpose of the new campaign is to help inform parents and direct them to medical professionals to have any questions answered and facts provided”.

The statement also said that Ministers Harris and McGrath agree that the people qualified to give advice on vaccines are medical professionals and they would encourage parents to take advice from them.

Mr McGrath’s comments were particularly controversial as they were made shortly after Mr Harris and Mr O’Brien launched the high-profile 2017/18 Schools HPV Vaccine Programme and Information Campaign.

As part of the launch over 40,000 information packs were delivered across the country in advance of the HSE Vaccination Teams beginning their scheduled post primary school visits in September.

Mr Tony O’Brien noted at the launch: “The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that vaccine hesitancy is one of the top three issues for health in Europe.

“That is despite the fact that the World Health Organisation and the European Commission said that in the last 60 years vaccines have saved more children’s lives than any other intervention”, he added.

Over the past two years, uptake rates have dropped from 90 per cent to around 50 per cent in Ireland last year. This decline has occurred despite the fact that Ireland has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in Western Europe; each year over 90 women die from cervical cancer.

Professor Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, Clinical Professor of Paediatrics, Consultant Paediatrician and Infectious Diseases Specialist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital and The Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street stressed: “Over 230,000 girls in Ireland have safely received the HPV vaccine, along with 227 million people worldwide in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“Not one of these people anywhere in the world has been medically proven to have had a long term side effect from getting the vaccine.

“This is a vaccine that can save lives. It works. In Scotland where their vaccination programme has been in place since 2008, they have seen a 90 per cent decrease in HPV infections. In Australia the vaccine has prevented one in every two new cervical cancers”, she concluded.

Also speaking at the launch, Professor Grainne Flannelly, Clinical Director of CervicalCheck and Consultant Obstetrician/Gynaecologist in the National Maternity Hospital, highlighted the need to act on behalf of future generations: “We have a very real possibility now of eliminating cervical cancer in future generations of Irish women. But to achieve that we need urgently to address our uptake rates and restore them to provide protection”.

The vaccine is endorsed by major medical and scientific bodies worldwide including the World Health Organisation, the Centres for Disease Control in the USA, the EU funded European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.