There has been a significant fall in the number of girls taking the HPV vaccine in the first year of secondary school, to guard against cervical cancer. The Irish Cancer Society has warned that urgent action needs to be taken to tackle this drop in uptake of the vital vaccine. According to the Society, at least 40 women could die every year due to this low uptake. The vaccine protects against a certain strain of the human papilloma virus which causes around 7 out of 10 cervical cancers. In 2014/2015, around 87% of girls were given the vaccine, however this figure dropped considerably in 2016 to 50%. The Society blames this reduction to “misinformation about the vaccine spreading on social media”.

This month saw the formation of the HPV Vaccination Alliance, comprising of around 30 organisations from children’s advocacy, women’s rights, health and education sectors. This newly formed Alliance has “signed a contract against cancer” and that each organisation within the Alliance endorsed the HPV vaccine as a “proven and safe way to protect from cancers which can destroy and end lives”.

The Society has indicated that in 2017, 420 people in Ireland will be diagnosed with a cancer caused by the HPV alone and around 300 of these will be victims of cervical cancer.

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, has stated “When it comes to HPV, the jury is in – the vaccine is safe and saves lives. It’s only natural that parents are fearful when they hear claims about a vaccine. It’s terrible that young girls get sick, but to link their illness to a life-saving vaccine when all the research shows no link is dangerous and threatens lives”.

He went on to elaborate “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. The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have concluded that the injection is safe and has no link to serious illnesses. All the evidence does show, however, that the vaccine prevents cervical cancer. That’s why the decisions parents make now on the vaccine can have serious consequences for their daughters”.