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The late Laura Brennan, HPV vaccine advocate

Brennans welcome news of free HPV vaccine for women under 25

Ennis College Further Education

AN announcement by the Minister of Health that the HPV vaccine is to be made available free of charge to all women under 25 has been welcomed by the family of the late Laura Brennan.

Since Laura’s passing three years ago the Brennan family have fought tirelessly to increase awareness of, and access to, the life saving vaccine. The Brennans are now stepping away from the campaign with Laura’s father Larry saying, “As a family we feel that we have achieved what we set out to do.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has written to the HSE telling it to outline a vaccination programme for women, as well as a catch-up programme for girls and boys in secondary school who missed out for various reasons including the pandemic.

In a message posted on social media confirming the move, Minister Donnelly paid tribute to Laura, who died from cervical cancer in 2019, and the Brennan family.

“Our goal it to eradicate cervical cancer over time. And we will. Ireland is the only country in the western world to reverse a crisis in confidence in HPV vaccination. We owe patient advocate Laura Brennan, an incredible campaigner, and her family a huge amount,” he wrote.

Laura’s brother Kevin described the announcement as “fantastic news” bringing Ireland “one step closer to eradicating HPV related cancers”. “Laura would be smiling tonight if she was still with us,” he posted to Twitter.

He praised Minister Donnelly along with all other politicians, public health representatives and advocates who campaigned for this over recent years. “This decision will undoubtedly save many lives,” he said.

Larry Brennan told The Clare Champion the family were not expecting the announcement.

“The minister had requested that NIAC (National Immunisation Advisory Committee) do a report on the HPV vaccination programme and we were led to believe that when that was done it would be sent to HIQA and then back to the minister.

“But on Friday we heard that the minister had made a statement to a reporter and then we found out that yes, the minister had agreed and was going to request the Department of Health to roll out the vaccine for women up to 25. While we were surprised we totally welcome the decision of the minster.

“As a family we feel that we have achieved what we set out to do. We initially thought we were finished when Laura passed. Her advocacy was purely to get the HPV vaccine uptake up, and she achieved that.

“After the documentary about her the vaccine uptake reached 81% nationally and 90% in County Clare. We thought that was the end of it but then we started receiving emails, phonecalls and social media contacts asking us what is the position for those who missed out on the vaccine.

“We soon realised there was need for a catch-up programme for those who missed out on the vaccine through one reason or another. So we started off again and we are at it for two years now working with the Department of Health, NIAC and the assistant Chief Medical Officer.”

While catch-up vaccines will now be available, he stressed the importance of the school’s vaccination programme.

“The maximum advantage of the vaccine is in the first or second year of secondary school. Even though there is a catch up programme in place we would appeal to parents and students to still get the vaccine at their secondary school for the first and second year.”

Fine Gael Senator and Party spokesperson for Health in the Seanad, Martin Conway has campaigned for the elimination of all charges associated with the HPV vaccine, particularly the very high cost of availing of a catch-up vaccine.

“The decision by government to remove all cost barriers to accessing the HPV vaccine is very welcome news,” said Senator Conway.

“The HPV vaccine saves lives and the more women who are vaccinated the more lives that will be saved.  The cost of receiving the HPV vaccine for women who missed out on it when offered at school was anywhere between €400 – €600 which is very expensive and has been a barrier preventing women from getting vaccinated.

“Since starting my campaign to have all costs removed, I have engaged with many teenage women and their families who wanted to get the HPV vaccine but simply couldn’t afford it.  Now they will be able to get their vaccine.”

He continued, “The late Laura Brennan dedicated the latter period of her short life encouraging young women and their families to get the HPV vaccine.  Her parents have continued this campaign.  I know that they were very concerned about the cost associated with the catch-up programme and considered it a major barrier to achieving the goal of full vaccination.”

The success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme here in Ireland demonstrated that vaccine hesitancy is very low, he said. 

“There is an acceptance in Ireland that vaccines work, and the pandemic helped solidify this. Now that the HPV vaccine is free, we should be ambitious in our targets in getting every woman in this country under 25 vaccinated. I would encourage any young woman who has not received the HPV vaccine to now do so,” concluded Senator Conway.

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