Sunday 18 February 2018

McGrath under attack as he defends U-turn over cancer vaccine

Super Junior Health Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke
Super Junior Health Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

The Irish Cancer Society has accused Super Junior Health Minister Finian McGrath of being "dangerous and irresponsible" in his opposition to a life-saving cancer vaccine.

However, speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr McGrath said he now supported the cervical cancer vaccine that he had previously castigated while in opposition.

He said he accepted that the vaccine, which has seen up-take rates fall by 40pc in recent years, was an "important part of Government health strategy".

The society called on Mr McGrath to "once and for all, publicly declare, unequivocally, his support for the vaccination programme".

It said ministers must take a "unified approach" to ensure the uptake rate of the HPV vaccine is increased and to ensure misinformation about it is dispelled.

Health Minister Simon Harris was drawn into the controversy and was forced to say he had spoken with Mr McGrath and was now assured he supported the vaccine campaign.

The Independent minister yesterday defended his U-turn, saying he now fully accepts HSE medical evidence.

However, he also defended his right to raise parents' concerns about this and other issues "whether in government or in opposition".

The change of stance prompted Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly to challenge Mr Harris to say whether he had confidence in Mr McGrath.

"It is completely unacceptable for a minister at the Department of Health to put anti-HPV vaccine on the public record as Mr McGrath has done," he said.

The Government has stepped up a campaign to promote the HPV vaccine after a 40pc fall-off in the numbers getting vaccinated between 2014 and 2016.

The vaccine is offered to all girls in first year in secondary school. In Ireland around 90 women die each year from the disease.

Mr McGrath had written in March 2016 to the then-health minister Leo Varadkar urging that the vaccine Gardasil be withdrawn as "a matter of priority".

At the time, the future Taoiseach rejected Mr McGrath's call, saying all medical evidence pointed to the vaccine being safe.

Some weeks later, Mr McGrath was appointed to the Department of Health.

He told the Irish Independent: "I did raise concerns about it when in opposition last year.

"I stand over the fact that I raised it because concerned parents asked me to.

"Parents have a right to voice any concerns they have relating to vaccines or any form of medication. Personally and as Minister of State, I do accept that such vaccines are a very important part of Government health strategy."

Irish Independent

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