MORE than four-fifths of schoolgirls eligible for the cervical cancer vaccine have received the life-saving treatment in its first year, new figures reveal.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) announced an uptake rate of 82%, exceeding its expectations of the number of girls receiving protection from developing cervical cancer as adults.
Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director of health protection at the HSE, welcomed the high uptake.
"These are excellent figures for the first year of the programme and are equal to or greater than those achieved in the first year of programmes in other countries, for example UK and Australia, and are a great credit to the staff of the vaccination teams," he said.
Around 80 women in Ireland die every year from cervical cancer.
The vaccination programme was introduced to a small number of schools in May 2010 and was rolled out nationally the following September, targeting almost 60,000 schoolgirls in first and second year.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is administered in three doses over six months.
"The staff involved in the programme are to be commended for this achievement and particularly for the impressive retention of girls in the programme, in that 97% of girls who received a first dose of HPV vaccine completed the three-dose schedule," Dr Kelleher added.
The national campaign aimed to achieve an 80% uptake for a completed course of vaccinations. It also includes a catch-up programme for all sixth year girls, which will continue for the next three years.
Parents were sent information packs and asked to sign consent forms, and most of the vaccines administered were done so in schools - free of charge.
The Government made a dramatic U-turn at the start of 2010 to roll out the life-saving vaccine after initially claiming it could not afford to do so given the tough economic climate.
However drug companies agreed to lower their prices for the vaccine, which saw the cost of the programme - including the vaccine and administration costs - slashed from 16 million euro to three million.