Thursday 23 May 2019

'Scaremongering' over HPV vaccine puts lives at risk: Harris

Vaccine take-up concern: Health minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Vaccine take-up concern: Health minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Doctors need to "come out fighting" and take on the scaremongers who are passing on "uninformed nonsense" about the vaccine which protects against cervical cancer, Minister for Health Simon Harris warned yesterday.

The minister's trenchant rallying call to doctors comes in the wake of a worrying drop in the uptake of the HPV vaccine by girls in secondary schools.

Last week members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland passed a motion at their annual conference asking for a review of the HPV vaccine programmes in schools.

Yesterday the Minister for Health responded with an unequivocal message to doctors at the Irish Medical Organisation annual general meeting in Galway.

"We know we have a problem with those who wish to scaremonger and misinform when it comes to vaccination.

"As doctors, you have an extremely important role in reassuring parents by providing clear and accurate information on the benefits of vaccination," he told the meeting.

"Let's come out fighting. Let's take on the scaremongers. Let's tell people - in no uncertain terms - that it is you, the doctors, who are the experts and the people who are most trusted, to know what is best for our people's health and well-being, young and old."

He said: "I take my advice on vaccinations from the Chief Medical Officer, from the European Medicines Agency, from the World Health Organisation and the medical community - not from random social media accounts.

"If you want to give medical advice on vaccinations, become a doctor. If not, get out of the way and stay away from our public health policy.

"We have vaccines in this country that can prevent death. We have a vaccine that can prevent girls from dying of cancer. And yet we have uninformed nonsense interfering with medical efforts to save lives. Shame on them," he added.

The take-up of the vaccine, which has been offered to secondary school girls since 2010, was at around 85pc. But a group of parents claimed that after their daughters had the vaccine, some of them developed symptoms including extreme fatigue and nerve- related pain.

An independent review of the vaccine by the European Medicines Agency gave it a clean bill of health and could find no link between the jab and the symptoms described by the girls involved.

The minister also told the gathering that he wanted to introduce a new system whereby GPs were salaried. Currently, GPs are self-employed but take on contracts to provide services such as the medical card scheme for the HSE. He said the option of salaried GPs, who would be paid by the HSE, should be considered. Negotiations on a new contract between the HSE and GPs are under way.

"I acknowledge also that GPs working in rural and socially deprived areas play a particularly important role. That is why I am committed to ensuring that general practice in such areas remains a sustainable option. This includes discussing the possibility of an option of salaried GPs," he said.

Sunday Independent

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