Vac­cine crit­ics us­ing ‘ter­ror tac­tics’

■ ‘Emo­tional ter­ror­ism’ used to stop take-up of cer­vi­cal can­cer jab

Irish Examiner - - Front Page - Eve­lyn Ring

HSE boss Tony O’Brien has launched a scathing at­tack on cam­paign­ers against the HPV vac­cine, ac­cus­ing them of “emo­tional ter­ror­ism”.

Mr O’Brien claims there has been a “well-or­ches­trated” cam­paign tar­get­ing par­ents, teenage girls and teach­ers with “dis­in­for­ma­tion” that has no ba­sis in sci­ence or medicine.

“Some of the tac­tics em­ployed can only be equated to a form of emo­tional ter­ror­ism. As a re­sult the up­take of the HPV vac­cine in this coun­try has dropped to an all-time low,” he said.

He was speak­ing at the launch of an in­for­ma­tion cam­paign to en­cour­age par­ents to get their daugh­ters vac­ci­nated against a virus that can cause cer­vi­cal can­cer.

Ire­land has one of the high­est cer­vi­cal can­cer rates in Europe, with more than 90 women dy­ing from the dis­ease ev­ery year and more than 280 oth­ers need­ing surgery, chemo­ther­apy, and/or ra­dio­ther­apy.

Up­take of the vac­cine dropped from about 90% to around 50% last year fol­low­ing claims that a num­ber of girls had suf­fered se­ri­ous side ef­fects.

Un­less this trend is re­versed, lives will be lost, warned Mr O’Brien.

“With­out a sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­ven­tion at this point and a re­ver­sal of up­take lev­els, we are likely to see the cam­paign of dis­in­for­ma­tion cost­ing the lives of women in this coun­try and we sim­ply can­not al­low that.”

Mr O’Brien said the Euro­pean Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion had found that vac­cine hes­i­tancy is one of the top three health is­sues in Europe.

“We are now liv­ing in a post-fac­tual age where the truth about mas­sively life-sav­ing is­sues like vac­ci­na­tion is writ­ten and an­a­lysed by mem­bers of the public on Face­book, Twit­ter, and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms.”

Mr O’Brien said it was wor­ry­ing that much of this anal­y­sis was based more on hearsay and emo­tion than on hard ev­i­dence and facts.

A num­ber of years ago one of the most suc­cess­ful vac­cines, MMR, which pro­tects against measles, mumps, and rubella, came un­der at­tack from a now dis­cred­ited doc­tor, An­drew Wake­field. “We must and we will do do all we can to pre­vent an­other ‘Wake­field sce­nario’ de­vel­op­ing,” said Mr O’Brien.

“Some of those who seek to un­der­mine the HPV vac­cine as part of the cur­rent cam­paign are likely to set their sights on other life-sav­ing vac­cines that we ad­min­is­ter in Ire­land if they get a sense that their mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign is suc­ceed­ing.”

Re­gret, one of the par­ents groups op­posed to the vac­cine, claims in­for­ma­tion from the HSE is in­com­plete, down­plays safety is­sues, and ex­ag­ger­ates its ef­fec­tive­ness.

Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris said a new HSE in­for­ma­tion cam­paign is the be­gin­ning of a “fight­back” for women’s health.

He said par­ents need to get their med­i­cal ad­vice from med­i­cal ex­perts.

“To those who wish to scare­mon­ger my mes­sage is very sim­ple: If you wish to give med­i­cal ad­vice in this coun­try be­come a med­i­cal pro­fes­sional and, if you don’t, please butt out,” said Mr Har­ris.

HSE na­tional director of health and well­be­ing, Dr Stephanie O’Ke­effe, said pro­vi­sional HSE data from April showed there was some sta­bil­i­sa­tion in the up­take of the vac­cine and while they re­main con­cerned at the cur­rent rates, it ap­peared that par­ents were hear­ing the mes­sage that the vac­cine was safe and ef­fec­tive.

Cer­vi­calCheck clin­i­cal director Prof Grainne Flan­nelly said more than 90 women die in Ire­land ev­ery year from cer­vi­cal can­cer,

More than 280 women, many young, need treat­ment for in­va­sive cer­vi­cal can­cer and over 6,500 would need to to be treated in hos­pi­tal for a pre­can­cer­ous form of the dis­ease. “The ev­i­dence for the vac­cine is com­pelling,” she said.

Gar­dasil pro­tects against two high-risk types of HPV, one of the most com­mon sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions. It pre­vents HPV 16 and 18, which cause 90% of gen­i­tal warts, and is used in more than 25 Euro­pean coun­tries, the US, Canada, Aus­tralia, and New Zealand.

Vac­ci­na­tions against a virus that can cause cer­vi­cal can­cer fell by half last year in Ire­land amid scares over side-ef­fects.

The HSE said the col­lapse in up­take of the hu­man pa­pil­loma virus (HPV) vac­cine Gar­dasil sta­bilised this year, as it warned par­ents about “con­flict­ing and mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion”.

Since 2010, more than 230,000 girls have been vac­ci­nated, with about 1,000 re­port­ing ad­verse re­ac­tions.

The HSE is send­ing 40,000 in­for­ma­tion packs to se­condary schools ahead of med­i­cal teams vis­it­ing to ad­min­is­ter the vac­cine in Septem­ber to first-year girls.

Pro­fes­sor Karina But­ler, a con­sul­tant pae­di­a­tri­cian and chair of the Na­tional Im­mu­ni­sa­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, said mil­lions of women have been safely vac­ci­nated around the world.

“Not one of these peo­ple any­where in the world has been med­i­cally proven to have had a long-term side ef­fect from get­ting the vac­cine. This is a vac­cine that can save lives. It works.”

Ire­land has one of the high­est cer­vi­cal can­cer rates in Europe with more than 90 women dy­ing from the dis­ease ev­ery year and more than 280 oth­ers need­ing surgery, chemo­ther­apy, and/or ra­dio­ther­apy.

Gar­dasil pro­tects against two high-risk types of HPV, one of the most com­mon sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions. It pre­vents HPV 16 and 18 that cause 90% of gen­i­tal warts and is used in more than 25 Euro­pean coun­tries, the US, Canada, Aus­tralia, and New Zealand.

Re­gret, one of the par­ents’ groups op­posed to the vac­cine, claims in­for­ma­tion from the HSE is in­com­plete, down­plays safety is­sues, and ex­ag­ger­ates its ef­fec­tive­ness.

The HSE said HPV vac­cines are more than 99% pro­tec­tive against in­fec­tion with can­cer-caus­ing HPV virus types and most ef­fec­tive in the 12 to 13-year age group.

Health chiefs urged con­cerned par­ents to only use the hpv.ie web­site for in­for­ma­tion on the vac­cine. It is ac­cred­ited by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Dr Stephanie O’Ke­effe, HSE na­tional director, health and well­be­ing, said: “We know that there are many con­flict­ing and mis­lead­ing sources of in­for­ma­tion out there.

“Although this in­for­ma­tion is pro­vi­sional, and we re­main very con­cerned at the cur­rent rates, it does tell us that par­ents would seem to be hear­ing the mes­sage that this vac­cine is safe and ef­fec­tive — it of­fers their daugh­ters a life with­out cer­vi­cal can­cer,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Health Prod­ucts Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity, there were 245 re­ported ad­verse re­ac­tions to Gar­dasil in the two years to April 2017. Most com­monly, peo­ple fainted when in­jected or showed gas­troin­testi­nal symp­toms, malaise, headache, dizzi­ness, and in­jec­tion site re­ac­tions.

Tony O’Brien: ‘We are now liv­ing in a post-fac­tual age.’

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