Friday 22 June 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: Shame on you Finian McGrath for putting your votes before lives

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly
Vaccinating teens against the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer

Ciara Kelly

I'm around long enough to remember the last major vaccine scare in this country when MMR rates plummeted in 2000 after fraudulent claims it caused autism. I recall shouting at the telly as one anti-MMR campaigner bleated into the camera: "I've seen the autism with my own eyes!" while wringing her hands. No amount of scientific evidence could compete.

The subsequent measles outbreak, when vaccine rates fell, resulted in the deaths of three children in Dublin - forgotten I suspect by most people, apart from their families who'll never forget losing their small children to an aggressive virus which should have been preventable.

Was anyone ever held to account for sabotaging the MMR? Well, Andrew Wakefield was rightly struck off as a doctor for unethical and false claims. But as for the rest, the ones who "knew for a fact that the MMR caused autism" and put so many scared parents off vaccinating? No, nothing. They disappeared.

Never acknowledging the MMR didn't cause autism. Never acknowledging their reckless scaremongering contributed to small lives lost. Instead, they forgot all about being vaccine experts, until now - when the HPV vaccine, which protects young women from contracting the HPV virus that causes the vast majority of cervical cancers, came to their attention.

There's no Andrew Wakefield this time. But there's plenty of other people spreading misinformation about your daughter falling dramatically and permanently ill should you be foolish enough to give it to her.

There's various groups involved in slating the HPV vax. Some are well-meaning parents whose teenage daughters have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) that they attribute to the vaccine. (There's a baseline rate of CFS of 0.5-2pc in teenage girls - that rate's the same in unvaccinated and vaccinated girls - meaning the vaccine does not cause the condition.) There are people who're suspicious of medicine and pharmaceuticals in general, who're just open to believing that all vaccines are bad. They're not - they're actually probably modern medicine's finest hour. And there's a conservative Christian group which believes vaccinating young girls against a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cancer will lead to promiscuity and, even worse, that if you're promiscuous you should take the consequences.

And then there's the populist politicians who'll attack this important vaccine to gain votes. I reserve a very special disdain for this last lot. They haven't bothered to read the evidence that shows categorically, based on hundreds of millions of doses worldwide, that the HPV vaccine is safe and no mysterious illnesses have occurred in the millions who received it. Or that the rate of cervical cancer in countries where the uptake is high has started to fall.

One such politician, unbelievably, is our super junior minister for health Finian McGrath. He not only failed to promote the HPV vaccine as a vital public health programme, he actually called for its removal as a priority last year. (We should remember this is the same health minister who believes the link between lung cancer and smoking isn't clear.) He then steadfastly refused to row back on that position in the press last week - before a huge backlash prompted mealy-mouthed statements from him about how he now accepted government policy and did support the HPV campaign.

However, grudging support after a political backlash is simply not good enough. A junior minister for health who has undermined public confidence in a vaccine - which will ultimately result in the death of Irish women - has made his position untenable.

In Ireland, 300 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually with 50pc of those women diagnosed being under 46 years of age. Ninety of those women will die. At a conservative estimate 50 women will needlessly die annually here if this vaccine programme fails. Shame on you Finian McGrath for putting your votes before their lives. And shame on those who prop you up in the role you're so clearly unfit for. Resign now. You've done enough damage.

@ciarakellydoc

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