As we approach the 2nd Anniversary of the death Laura Brennan, her family has expressed concerns regarding the deferral of this year’s roll out of the HPV vaccination programme.
A decline in the uptake of the HPV vaccine and issues with its accessibility and distribution since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic are very worrying.
We are all fully aware of the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on our country and the strain it has put on our health system. Vaccines have never been more topical or longed for than they are today, but just as we wait for the administration of the Covid-19 vaccine, we must not forget about the HPV vaccine. A vaccine that our country currently has in its possession and readily available for administration.
In order to combat these setbacks, we believe that the HPV vaccine needs to be reinstated to the current public health agenda, with it also to include a ‘catch up’ programme to cater for those who may have missed out on their opportunity to be vaccinated previously due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, there is a large cohort of young teenagers who have missed out on the opportunity to receive their first dose of the HPV vaccine.
Due to unprecedented pressures on schools with their initial re-openings in September, the vast majority of secondary schools felt they were not in a position to welcome vaccination teams at that time. If this occurs again in the next school year, the number of teenagers who will lose out on their opportunity to be vaccinated will increase significantly.
We understand that delivering a school vaccination programme during a pandemic is challenging but the importance of the HPV vaccination programme must not be forgotten.
Many parties worked tirelessly to promote the effectiveness and importance of the HPV vaccine with great success. The positive take up of the HPV vaccine had risen from just 51% nationally to an encouraging rate of 81% and 90% in County Clare. Thankfully these figures prior to the Covid 19 pandemic showed that HPV vaccination was becoming the norm and we do not want to see a decline in this positive momentum.
We appeal to the Department of Health (DOH) to explore using the existing Covid 19 vaccination facilities to vaccinate both 1st year boys and girls and complete the current year of vaccinations. This is in line with the recommendations from The European Cancer Organisation.
In Autumn 2019 the free immunisation programme was extended to first year boys for the first time. This was a wonderful milestone and a very welcomed addition to the HPV vaccination programme. HPV affects both men and women. Each year in Ireland: HPV causes 406 cancers in both women and men, over 6,500 women need hospital treatment for pre-cancer of the cervix, 300 women get cervical cancer and 90 women die from cervical cancer. If Ireland could achieve a 100% uptake of the vaccine, along with rigid screening and treatment the prospect of eradicating HPV related cancers in the near future is possible.
In addition, it has been brought to our attention that second level students who have reached 16 years of age and are now in a position to make an informed decision independent of their parents have been faced with a bill of circa 650 Euro. Prior to the vaccination of boys there was a catch up programme for girls while they were still at school but now HSE do not offer any such catch up programme. We implore the DOH to re-introduce this catch up programme for all second level students, a catch up that mirrors our neigbouring countries. No child in Ireland should have to suffer a HPV related cancer as a result of a decision made by their parents/guardians or due to financial constraints.
As Laura’s family we aim to continue our daughter and sister’s legacy by continuing to advocate for the HPV vaccine. We therefore appeal to the DOH to review its current HPV vaccine administration plan and increase its efforts to protect our future generations. Lastly, we strongly advise all parents to get their children vaccinated. The HPV vaccine can and will save lives.