Extension of HPV vaccine to boys on the cards
Expert says acute side-effects "not due to jab"
A new version of the HPV anti-cervical cancer vaccine is likely to be introduced as a top medical expert dismissed claims that acute long-term side-effects in young girls are linked to the jab.
The HPV programme was rolled out to girls in secondary schools all over the country in 2010.
It is also anticipated that the next government will recommend that the vaccine programme be extended to boys.
The vaccine is intended to protect against diseases caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), including: pre-cancerous lesions of the female genitals and anus, genital warts and cervical and anal cancers.
This summer there will be a conference in Salzburg to mark the 10-year anniversary of the introduction of the Gardasil vaccine.
It will also feature the launch of Gardasil 9 - a new, extended version of the vaccine that will protect against five additional HPV viruses.
The US has already made the switch.
Initially, medical experts believed they would have to wait several years before seeing any results. However, a number of impact studies coming out of programmes in Australia, Scotland and Denmark are showing promising short-term results.
The vaccine was rolled out in these countries approximately two years before Ireland.
Janice Murtagh, senior medical adviser for Sanofi Pasteur MSD, the largest company in the world devoted entirely to vaccines, said in Scotland they are already seeing a 50pc reduction in premalignant lesions in the vaccinated population.
"In less than a decade of the introduction of the programme, we are already seeing results in terms of a decrease," she said.
"The cancers could potentially be eradicated through HPV vaccination and we're hoping that when the cohort of Irish girls present for their smears that we will see a decrease in cervical abnormalities," she said.
The first population of vaccinated Irish girls will present for their cervical smears in 2018 and their vaccination status will be recorded.
Treatment for HPV cancers can be highly emotional and distressing for the individuals. In addition, sexual health clinics are extremely costly to the taxpayer. HPV causes 5pc of the worldwide cancer burden.
Ms Murtagh says the HPV vaccination programme is one of the most successful in the world. Uptake nationally is approximately at 85pc.
Studies from Australia, where a "girls-only" HPV vaccination programme was rolled out in 2007, reveal that immediately after receiving the jab the percentage of cases of genital warts decreased by almost 92pc.
Interestingly, in the same cohort of Australian boys who were not vaccinated, there is an 81pc decrease in the presentation of genital warts.
"This is an example of herd immunity. They are seeing a decrease in virus circulation, so the boys having sex with vaccinated girls have a lesser risk of picking up genital warts," she said.
A woman's risk of picking up HPV is very high between mid-20s to 40s, but then it decreases. However, a man's risk remains at a constant level.
Last December, senior health policy advisers to the Government recommended that Irish boys also get the vaccine.
"There is a huge amount of scientific data that boys should be vaccinated as well. We believe the Irish recommendation is imminent," said Ms Murtagh.
Despite this optimism, fear is growing that the uptake of vaccine will plummet this March - when girls are due their next jab.
Members of Reactions and Effects of Gardasil Resulting in Extreme Trauma (Regret), a parents' group, claim their daughters - mostly aged 11-17 years - became seriously ill after receiving the Gardasil vaccine.
Almost 280 girls have presented to the group so far. They all claim to be suffering a broad range of debilitating ailments, including seizures, constant pain, chronic fatigue, pancreatitis, lock jaw, menstrual problems and extreme anxiety.
Despite these claims, Ms Murtagh is adamant that the side-effects are not linked to the HPV jab. "We can definitively say there is no link back to our vaccine," she said.
Anna Cannon, a spokesperson for Regret, said: "Some 10,000 teenagers worldwide are presenting with mirroring side-effects. This vaccine warrants a major investigation."