At least 40 women will die from cervical cancer after a massive drop in the number of girls taking the life saving HPV vaccine in secondary schools.
The Irish Cancer Society warned that urgent action was needed to address the low number of girls getting the HPV vaccine in their first year of secondary school.
The vaccine protects against certain strains of the human papilloma virus, which causes around seven of 10 cervical cancers.
About 87 percent of girls got the vaccine in the 2014/2015 academic year.
But the vaccination rate dropped to 50 percent last year, which the society said is due to “misinformation about the vaccine spreading on social media”.
Around 30 organisations in children’s advocacy, women’s rights, health and education sectors announced the formation of the HPV Vaccination Alliance this week, with the goal of reversing that misinformation.
The Irish Cancer Society said that the newly formed Alliance had signed “a contract against cancer” and that each one endorsed the HPV vaccine as a “proven and safe way to protect from cancers which can destroy and end lives”.
Figures from the society show that this year alone, up to 420 people in Ireland will be diagnosed with a cancer caused by the HPV infection.
Around 300 of these people will be cervical cancer cases.
Meanwhile, 6,500 women will need hospital treatment to remove precancerous growths in their cervix caused by HPV.
Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society Donal Buggy said:
“When it comes to the HPV vaccine, the jury is in – the vaccine is safe and saves lives. The Irish Cancer Society has been vocal on this issue for quite some time.
“It’s only natural that parents are fearful when they hear claims about a vaccine.
“It’s terrible that young girls get sick, but to link their illness to a life-saving vaccine when all the research shows no link is dangerous and threatens lives.
“Large studies looking at 3-4 million women, vaccinated and unvaccinated, found no evidence whatsoever that HPV vaccination causes any immune or nervous system disorder.
“The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have concluded that the injection is safe and has no link to any serious illnesses.
“All the evidence does show, however, that the vaccine prevents cervical cancer.
“That’s why the decision parents make now on the vaccine can have serious consequences for their daughters.”
Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), added:
“At our most recent AGM, NWCI members voted to fully support all efforts around increasing the uptake of the HPV vaccine. We see this issue as hugely concerning for women’s health.
“Not only does cervical cancer kill 90 women in Ireland each year, it leaves many more infertile due to the side effects of harsh and invasive medical treatment for the disease.
“These are lasting consequences which young women – and their parents – will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
“No woman should have the choice of having a biological family taken away from them because they did not receive a safe and life-saving vaccine.
“That’s why it’s important that we do all we can to ensure the public know all the facts about the HPV vaccine.”