AN OPEN letter has been sent by the family of the late campaigner Laura Brennan appealing to health officials to reinstate the HPV vaccination scheme for teens. As the second anniversary of the Ennis woman’s untimely death from cervical cancer approaches, her family fear that the vaccination campaign, to which Laura dedicated her final years and months, is being thrown off course by pandemic restrictions. Laura’s work with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Health Service Executive (HSE), led to uptake rates for the HPV vaccine surpassing 80% nationally and 90% in Clare.
Pandemic restrictions and school closures have disrupted the HPV vaccination programme normally available, free-of-charge, to boys and girls in first year at secondary school. The HSE describes the scheme as “paused” because school vaccination teams are currently involved in the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.
“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,” the Brennan family’s letter acknowledged. “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.”
Kevin Brennan said the family is appealing for the scheme to be reinstated alongside 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”.
The family’s appeal which has been backed by The Irish Cancer Society, notes the difficulty of delivering school vaccinations during a pandemic but raises concerns over large numbers of teenagers missing out and the current rates of HPV-related cancers. “HPV affects both men and women,” the letter noted. “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.
“We appeal to the Department of Health 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.”
The family has also re-stated its aim of continuing award-winning Laura’s legacy of advocacy.