“That Dáil Éireann:
- the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects young girls from developing cervical cancer when they grow up;
- vaccinating pre-teen boys also protects them against HPV-related cancers later in life;
- the Health Service Executive (HSE) estimates that 300 Irish women get cervical cancer every year, with up to 90 deaths; and
- according to official figures, over 220,000 Irish girls have safely received the HPV vaccine to date;
- more than 200 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been administered worldwide, with no serious side effects scientifically attributed to the vaccine; and
- Australia, which was one of the first countries to introduce the HPV vaccine, has seen a 50 per cent drop in rates of pre-cancer of the cervix over the past decade;
unanimously supports the campaign to encourage parents to avail of the HPV vaccine for their children in their first year of secondary school; and
calls on the Government to further extend the HPV vaccination programme to include boys in their first year of secondary school.”
I appreciate the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, being in the Chamber for this motion. He could be here for a couple of hours. It is unfortunate that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, could not be here tonight for this debate. I am aware that he is very busy and I understand that. The Minister is aware of this issue. I have spoken with him about it on many occasions. I feel very strongly about it and this is why the Labour Party is using its Private Members' time tonight to put forward a motion to ensure greater uptake of the human papillomavirus vaccine, HPV, in part to protect children but more to ensure the vaccine is extended to boys. It is important that this happens.
The HPV vaccine is currently offered to 30,000 girls in their first year in secondary schools. The uptake of the vaccine has been at 50% due to many different reasons but in particular due to unfounded concerns of some parents in recent years, much of which went on social media. I am delighted to be able to say that due to work of the HSE, it is improving. We come in to the House and we criticise each other quite a bit, but in fairness to the Minister for Health, who has just arrived to the Chamber, I compliment him on the work that was done in the last year to increase the vaccine uptake to 62%. We still have a lot of work to do but this figure is very positive. There are, however, more than 11,000 girls who remain exposed to HPV infection and are at risk of HPV-related cancers and diseases in later life. Consequently, approximately 30,000 boys each year are also at risk due not being offered HPV vaccination.
There is a significant public health risk associated with not vaccinating both boys and girls against HPV. We need to get to an immunity level of over 80%. We have brought the motion forward because we believe it is a critical issue from a public health perspective and it needs to be progressed. As of March 2018, globally there are 84 government-funded HPV immunisation programmes, 18 of which are now universally vaccinating both boys and girls against HPV. Countries such as Canada, Slovenia, the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Italy are vaccinating boys and girls. Vaccination of boys and girls improves the effectiveness of national vaccination programs and promotes greater health equality in the prevention of HPV-related diseases. Given the critical role that males play in the transmission of HPV infection, an effective way to achieve the greatest protection against cancer and other HPV-related diseases is to vaccinate adolescent males as well as females.
Programmes vaccinating boys and girls have been modelled to be more resilient than gender-specific HPV vaccination programs, which enables the programmes to protect against a loss of effectiveness resulting from temporary coverage reduction. In the case of a drop-off in vaccination take-up it would be mitigated somewhat were both sexes vaccinated.
I draw the Minister's attention to the real issue - about which we have spoken at length - concerning his request to the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, to conduct a health technology assessment, HTA, to extend the HPV vaccine to boys in the current programme. I hope the Minister agrees that this decision needs to happen pretty soon. The current timeframe for the decision means it would not be possible to start vaccinations until September 2019. Nationally, this would leave approximately 30,000 young boys without a HPV vaccination in the 2018-19 academic year. I am aware that HIQA is under pressure with regard to resources but I implore the Minister to use whatever influence he has to ask HIQA to bring forward the HTA as soon as possible. There is a lead time. The Minister and I are aware of this and anybody who follows this is aware of it. The lead time needs to be taken into account.
When it first commenced in 2010, the administration cost of delivering the HPV vaccination programme in Ireland was €3,785,000. This cost covered two cohorts - a single cohort in first year and a second catch-up cohort in the sixth year of secondary school. The uptake by young girls in the early years of the programme was extremely positive; we reached almost 82% in one year. Due to campaigns that were launched and targeted with misleading information about the vaccine, these take-up figures have dropped off.
Extending the HPV vaccination programme to boys would require an additional vaccinator visit to boys' schools. This visit could be done in conjunction with the programme that is already in place. This would create economies and ensure the programme is cost-effective. If we can get more than 85% of boys and girls taking up the vaccine then the programme would be more than cost-effective. In the long run, it would actually save money. The vaccine will save money once we can get the take up to a certain level.
If the Acting Chairman agrees, I would like to share five minutes of my time with Deputy Joan Burton.