Thursday 29 September 2016

Health Minister rules out any new warnings to schoolgirls on HPV vaccine

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Published 22/06/2016 | 11:39

Simon Harris recently gave HPV vaccine the all-clear
Simon Harris recently gave HPV vaccine the all-clear

Health Minister Simon Harris has ruled out putting any new warnings on the vaccine given to schoolgirls to prevent cervical cancer.

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The minister gave the HPV vaccine the all-clear based on a European expert study which looked at its safety.

The research was carried out in the wake of fears by some parents that it was associated with a small group of teenage girls developing symptoms such as chronic fatigue syndrome, pain and seizures after getting the jab.

"The European Medicines Agency has advised healthcare professionals that available data does not warrant any change to the use of HPV vaccines as there are no new safety concerns regarding HPV vaccines," he said.

"I am aware of claims of an association between HPV vaccination and a number of symptoms experienced by a group of young women.

"It appears that some girls first suffered symptoms around the time they received the HPV vaccine, and understandably some parents have connected the vaccine to their daughter’s condition.

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath

"Anyone who is suffering ill health is eligible to seek medical attention, and to access appropriate health and social care services, irrespective of the cause of their symptoms.

"The individual nature of the needs of some children may require access to specialist services which can be accessed through their GP," he added.

He said the immunisation programme in Ireland is based on the advice of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

NIAC is a committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland comprising of experts in a number of specialties including infectious diseases, paediatrics and public health.

HPV vaccine. Photo: PA
HPV vaccine. Photo: PA

The committee's recommendations are informed by public health advice and international best practice, he said in a parliamentary reply to Kerry Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin.

"In 2009, NIAC recommended HPV vaccination for all 12 year old girls, and in September 2010, the HPV vaccination programme was introduced for all girls in the first year of second level schools.

"The HPV vaccine protects girls from developing cervical cancer when they are adults. It is available free of charge from the HSE for all girls in 1st year of secondary school and over 200,000 girls have received the vaccine since its introduction."

The combination of a HPV vaccination schools programme along with regular screening of the women as adults has the potential to reduce the incidence of cervical cancers by up to 90pc.

Mr Harris said that, in Ireland, the medicines' watchdog the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) is the regulatory authority for medicines in Ireland and is the appropriate authority to which possible adverse reactions to medicinal products should be reported.

"In November 2015, the European Medicines Agency completed a detailed scientific review of the HPV vaccine. The review which the HPRA participated in, specifically focused on rare reports of two conditions, complex regional pain syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome associated with heart rate increase.

"The outcome of the review which was carried out by the EMA Pharmacovigilance and Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) found no evidence of a causal link between the vaccine and the two conditions examined.

"The European Medicines Agency has advised healthcare professionals that available data does not warrant any change to the use of HPV vaccines as there are no new safety concerns regarding HPV vaccines," he continued.

"Healthcare professionals should therefore continue using the vaccines in accordance with the current product information.

"On January 12 last the European Commission endorsed the conclusion of the European Medicines Agency stating that there is no need to change the way HPV vaccines are used or to amend the product information. This final outcome by the Commission is now binding in all member states."

The publicity surrounding the fears of parents about possible side-effects led to a fall-off in take up in recent rounds, particularly in the west of Ireland.

Dr Kevin Connolly, chair of the NIAC, asked parents to continue to have their daughter vaccinated to reduce their risks of cancer later in life.

As adults they will continue to need cervical screening but their risks of cancers are greatly reduced.

He said:"There has been publicity about an alleged link between chronic fatigue syndrome and the HPV vaccine. I respect people’s beliefs but there is no evidence to link HPV vaccine with chronic fatigue syndrome."

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