Parents urged to give consent for HPV vaccine

1st years to be offered vaccine in coming weeks
  • Deborah Condon

All first-year students in secondary school will be offered the HPV vaccination in the coming weeks.

The HSE has launched the 2020/21 schools HPV vaccination programme and it is hoping to build on the success of last year's campaign, which saw 81% of students receiving the first dose of the vaccine last autumn.

In 2017, just 50% of students availed of it.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common virus that most people will get at some stage in their lives. There are over 100 types of HPV infection and most are harmless and will clear up by themselves.

However some HPV infections can cause genital warts and HPV-related cancers, including cervical, vaginal and throat cancer in females and penile, anal and throat cancer in males.

Up to 100 women and 30 men die every year in Ireland from HPV-related cancers, but the HPV vaccine protects against nine out of 10 of these cancers, as well as genital warts.

The vaccine is given in two doses - the first in autumn and the second the following spring. However, 2019/20 students were unable to get their second dose as planned last spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many school vaccination teams have since held catch-up clinics for those who missed their second dose, and any student who was unable to attend these clinics will be offered an additional opportunity to complete their vaccination schedule during this academic year.

The HSE again thanked HPV vaccine campaigner, Laura Brennan, who died in March 2019 of cervical cancer at the age of just 26.

Ms Brennan, from Co Clare, was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer at the age of just 25. She contacted the HSE in 2017 and first provided her support to the HSE's HPV Vaccine Information Campaign in April 2018. She then worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the importance of getting vaccinated, right up until her death.

According to the HSE, the increase in the uptake of the vaccine in recent years is largely due to the work of Laura and her family.

"We are now coming into a time where we could eliminate certain types of cancer caused by the HPV virus and what a great legacy this would be to leave our children and grandchildren, and what a way to honour the memory and tireless work of Laura Brennan and her family," commented Dr Lucy Jessop, director of the HSE's National Immunisation Office.

She emphasised that this year is "challenging", but urged everyone who can avail of the vaccine, to get it.

"We're very pleased with the uptake figures of 81% for the first dose of HPV vaccine last year. This year is challenging. We're delivering a school vaccination programme in the middle of a global pandemic, but HPV vaccine is no less important this year than any other and we don't want to lose the positive momentum we have on this.

"I encourage parents to read the information from the HSE and speak to a trusted health professional if they have any questions before signing the consent form for their child," Dr Jessop said.

Some 60,000 information packs are now being delivered to schools nationwide as HSE vaccination teams begin their school visits.

For more information on the HPV vaccine schools programme, click here.

*Pictured is HPV vaccine campaigner, Laura Brennan

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