Author: Anton McNulty

Parents are potentially harming their children’s health by not signing them up to receive the HPV vaccine, which protects against cancer in both males and females. That is the opinion of Martin Clynes, Emeritus Professor of Biotechnology in Dublin City University, who has spent his life researching cancer cells and how they develop in the body.

The HPV vaccine is currently available free of charge to all second level students to protect against cervical cancer in women as well as other cancers.

The free school-based vaccination programme started in 2010 but uptake of the vaccine slowed around 2016 when some parents established lobby groups because of concerns raised about the vaccine’s safety. The current uptake is at 76 percent for the first dose and 65 percent for the second dose.

Last year the scheme was extended to women under 25 years of age following a campaign from Bernie and Larry Brennan, parents of the late Laura Brennan who campaigned for higher uptake of the HPV vaccine before her death from cervical cancer in 2019, aged 26.

Despite the European Medicines Agency (EMA) dismissing any long-term effects caused by the vaccine, Prof Clynes believes that the uptake is not as good as it should be.

Speaking to The Mayo News ahead of a talk he gave on cancer as part of the Féile Chill Damhnait festival on Achill last Wednesday evening, Prof Clynes said parents should get their children to take the vaccine.

Scare stories

“I think the cervical vaccine has been very safe and you are not doing any service to your children by not signing up. There have been irrational scare stories that it caused debilitating diseases in certain children but statistically that did not hold up. In general it is very safe and in general the basis of objections haven’t been well based. Usually by the time they get to Ireland the vaccines have been very well tested,” he said.

Prof Clynes explained the treatment for cervical cancer is not as advanced as other cancers and the benefits of having the vaccine in both girls and boys outweigh any risks.

“It is protective against cervical cancer and the earlier they get immunisation the better so their early teens is ideal. The same virus is involved in mouth cancer in men and immunisation of boys at the same age is a good idea to protect them and to protect their sexual partners. I don’t think the uptake has been great in boys and you don’t hear much about it. Certainly cervical cancer is not pleasant and it would not be as advanced as breast cancer for having specific treatments.

“Generally with a vaccine it occurs on a phased basis with the first vaccination and then boosters. There is always a small number of people who react badly but it is the same who have a terrible reaction to a bee sting. Most of us would be okay but if a child is like that you get a warning with the first vaccination and it would be reasonable not to proceed,” he said.