JUST over a year ago, Health Minister Mary Harney instructed the Health Service Executive to reopen price negotiations with manufacturers of a cervical cancer vaccine.
The rethink, if that is what it was, came after the minister had stirred massive controversy by cancelling a programme announced four months previously. A programme of cervical jabs was to be rolled out to all 12-year-old schoolgirls from 2009. The cost at the time was stated to be €10m. But weeks later, the minister withdrew her commitment because of the state of the national finances.
The decision meant parents would have to find about €600 for the inoculation to be administered privately. Fourteen other European countries have made the vaccine available free to young girls as part of public health. Now it seems the year-long search for bargain vaccine has paid off handsomely.
What would have cost the State €16m in October 2008 (or was it €10m?) will now cost just €3m and, so, more than 30,000 first-year schoolgirls will receive the life-saving vaccine this year.
Ireland has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in Europe. Each year, about 200 women are diagnosed and an average of 70 women die of the disease.
The eventual outcome is, therefore, very welcome, even if it raises questions about why the right price could not be reached at the time. Indeed, a reduction in cost from €16m -- which included a €6m budget for the administration of the drug -- to €3m, as announced by the minister yesterday, truly makes this a miracle drug.