A STEEP drop in the number of Limerick schoolgirls being vaccinated against cancer is causing alarm, with dire warnings that they are at serious risk of developing the disease.
Almost one in four girls have not received the vaccine and, judging by figures from the Irish Cancer Society, that figure could drop to just 50 per cent.
In the 2015/2016 school year, 267 Limerick schoolgirls declined the offer of the free vaccine. This meant just 74 per cent of those eligible to receive the vaccine in Limerick actually got it, down from 86.7 per cent the previous year.
Statistics suggest that the poor national uptake will result in the deaths of 40 women who could have been saved by the vaccine. A further 100 will need life-changing treatment and 1,000 more will undergo invasive therapy.
The vaccine protects against the strains of Human Papilloma Virus which causes seven in ten cases of cervical cancer in women.
In response to the dramatic drop in uptake, more than 30 organisations, including leading health, children and women’s groups, have formed the HPV Vaccination Alliance.
The Alliance says that the drop in uptake has been largely caused by “misinformation” about side effects, mostly spread on social media.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death due to cancer in women aged 25 to 39 and this year more than 90 Irish women will die from the disease. Those who survive will need intensive treatment, such as surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, to help them recover.
This new school term around 30,000 first-year secondary school girls will be offered the vaccine as part of a national vaccination programme which began in 2010. While national uptake of the vaccine reached a high of 87 per cent in the 2014/2015 academic year, in just two years this has fallen to 50 per cent, largely due to misinformation about the vaccine spreading on social media.
Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, 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.
“All the evidence shows that the vaccine prevents cervical cancer. That’s why the decision parents make now on the vaccine can have serious consequences for their daughters,” Mr Buggy said.
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