Irish Cancer Society presents facts about HPV vaccine

5,000 fewer girls received the HPV vaccine in last academic year

The Irish Cancer Society will today (Tues, 23/08) host the first of two public talks about the HPV vaccine which will see leading medical experts present the facts on the jabs and their effectiveness in preventing cervical cancer.

This new school term around 30,000 first-year secondary school girls will be offered the vaccine as part of a national vaccination programme which began in 2010.

Our Decoding Cancer – The HPV Vaccine: Warts and All public talks will seek to give a complete picture of the importance of the vaccine, which protects against the major strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

The talks take place in Galway today (Tuesday, 23rd August, 6:30-7:30pm) in the Clayton Hotel, Ballybrit, and in Cork tomorrow (Wednesday 24th August, 6:30-7:30pm) in the Oriel Hotel, Ballincollig.

These Irish Cancer Society events come as figures from the HSE show that the number of schoolgirls opting to receive the vaccine in the last academic year dropped by 5,000, compared to the 2014/2015 cycle.

In the period from September 2014 to June 2015, out of 30,838 girls who were eligible for the free vaccine, just 4,057 did not receive the shot, representing an uptake of 87%.

However, provisional figures from the HSE indicate an uptake of 70% in the same period in 2015/2016, which would mean that, out of 31,272 vaccine-eligible girls, 9,382 did not receive the vaccination.

The drop coincides with much media coverage of alleged illnesses caused by the vaccine, which in turn has raised significant safety fears among parents. However, there has been little discussion of the huge potential for this vaccine to help eliminate an important cause of cancer and the proven medical facts pertaining to the safety of this vaccine.

The Irish Cancer Society is concerned that parents need more information to fully understand the risks of HPV-associated cancers, and need to hear from knowledgeable experts about the vaccine and its safety as they consider giving consent for their daughters to receive this injection. ‘The HPV Vaccine: Warts and All’ will seek to give a complete picture of the importance of the HPV vaccination programme by providing access to expert speakers on a local and global scale.

Speakers at the talks in Galway and Cork include:

  • Professor Margaret Stanley, OBE, University of Cambridge, whose research focusses on the development of vaccines and immunotherapies against HPV.
  • Dr Michael O Leary, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Galway University Hospital (Galway event).
  • Dr Matt Hewitt, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Cork University Maternity Hospital (Cork event).
  • Moderator: Dr Robert O’Connor, Head of Research, Irish Cancer Society.

Professor Stanley is acknowledged in her field as a leading research scientist in HPV and cervical cancer. Her work has focussed on how the body defends itself against infections with HPV (human papillomavirus) the cause of cervical cancer in women, how to develop vaccines that prevent HPV infection as well as those that might treat HPV infection.

Speaking ahead of the talks, Prof Stanley said:

“The HPV vaccine is safe and will save lives – the evidence shows this. More than 200 million doses have been delivered to more than 75 million people worldwide. Large studies looking at 3-4 million women, vaccinated and unvaccinated, found no evidence whatsoever that HPV vaccination causes any immune or nervous system disorder. Recently in late 2015 the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency concluded that the injection is safe and has no link to any serious illnesses.

“As someone who has worked throughout her professional life to prevent the scourge of cervical cancer in women, I am confident that this vaccine against HPV, the cause of this cancer, can prevent cervical cancers, saving lives and suffering in millions of women around the world.”

In 2016 it is estimated that 90 Irish women will die from cervical cancer. A further 280 will be diagnosed with this serious illness, with four in ten of them succumbing to this disease within five years.

What’s more, 6,500 Irish women will need hospital treatment to remove precancerous growths in their cervix. HPV causes all of these conditions.

Commenting on these figures, Dr Matt Hewitt, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Cork University Maternity Hospital, said:

”Around 220,000 Irish girls have been fully vaccinated with Gardasil 4, the vaccine used in the national vaccination programme, over the past six years. That’s 220,000 girls who are protected from strains of HPV that causes over 70% of all cervical cancers.

“As someone who sees the effects of cervical cancer on my patients daily, in an ideal world, the uptake of the HPV vaccine would make my job virtually redundant. Women’s lives will be saved by this vaccine, so it is imperative that families have the facts about the injection before making up their minds over whether their daughters receive it.”

The event is being held as part of the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘Decoding Cancer’ series of public talks, which aims to dispel some of the myths around cancer and explore the many advances being made through research in prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivorship.

Visit our section on HPV and its connection to cervical cancer for more information.