Vaccine critics using ‘terror tactics’
■ ‘Emotional terrorism’ used to stop take-up of cervical cancer jab
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.’