Saturday 21 September 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: Here's the truth about the HPV vaccine

Vaccines are arguably the single biggest success story in saving lives
Vaccines are arguably the single biggest success story in saving lives
Vaccines are arguably the single biggest success story in saving lives

There has been much debate in the Irish media of late about the HPV vaccine Gardasil - the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (which causes cervical cancer) that is given to young girls aged 12 or 13.

And to be clear - by debate I mean scaremongering.

So much so that we've seen rates of uptake fall to around 70pc - a vaccine low not seen since our last vaccine scaremongering campaign in the early 2000s against the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine.

You might remember a British doctor (since struck off) who produced a falsified piece of research suggesting the MMR caused autism.

Cue a sort of frenzied roll-out of autistic children as proof of same.

Read more: ‘I had to leave my life in Abu Dhabi and fly home after I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 24’

The MMR was subsequently vindicated as safe and rates of uptake are back up at 95pc with - surprise, surprise - no increase in autism.

There are consequences to peddling lies and anecdotes as medical facts and those that campaigned against the MMR bear some responsibility in these instances.

When you frighten parents into leaving their children exposed to potentially fatal, vaccine-preventable diseases with bogus information and then those same children suffer, you played a role in that.

Which brings me up to the present day. Globally, 250,000 women die from cervical cancer each year.

Read more: 'The C-word had become a dinner table discussion for us' - This is what happened me after my smear test

And 100 Irish families lost a daughter, a mother, a sister or a wife to it last year - as they do every year. They were real people who died from a real disease.

Real lives snuffed out along with their hopes and dreams. And that's despite a very effective cervical-screening system that attempts to pick up on cervical cancer at an early and treatable stage.

So to those of you who say we do not need this HPV vaccine, we should just do cervical smears instead - I say screening didn't save those 100 women. Prevention is always far better than cure.

The truth about the HPV vaccine is this. Less than one tenth of a percent of girls who receive it will experience negative side effects.

Read more: What happens when you get a smear test? A step-by-step guide to cervical screening

These are mostly a sore arm or feeling a bit fluey for a couple of days.

And despite hundreds of millions of doses of this vaccine being given globally in the past decade and it being constantly monitored to see if it causes any medical problems for those it is given to, no evidence has emerged that some weird basket of vague medical symptoms has been caused by it.

No proof that it has caused the kind of problems it's being accused of has shown up.

What has occurred is a reduction in rates of HPV transmission and a subsequent reduction in cervical cancer rates. That's the potential to save 100 Irish women's lives this year and every year.

There is a problem with false balance in the media that pits scientific facts based on actual clinical evidence against emotive feelings based on nothing - as if they carry equal weight.

Read more: Mum who lost her daughter to cervical cancer at 23: 'You know when something is wrong with your body... She knew. I knew'

What's more, there's also the nocebo effect - the opposite to the placebo effect - which means if you tell someone they will get sick after they take something - even if that thing is harmless - then they will.

Vaccines are arguably the single biggest success story in saving lives by modern medicine.

I fully understand the desire for a parent to want to protect their child in every way and to fear doing anything that may harm them. I have kids.

I have a daughter and I gave her the HPV vaccine. And I'm very glad I've done what I can to protect her from this fatal but preventable disease. I want no regrets.


Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Life