The vaccination conversation

Ciara O'Loughlin

Conversation around vaccinations has resurfaced following the introduction of the HPV vaccine. Credit: Shutterstock

She was asleep more than she was awake. At one point I came home and she was stuck on the third step of the stairs clinging onto the banister, she couldn’t make it up she was so lethargic.”

These are the words of Karen Smyth. Her daughter Laura, who is 21 years old, has been suffering from a cluster of health difficulties. She has been experiencing immense pain, confusion and chronic fatigue, to name only but a few, for eight and a half years.

Smyth believes that Laura’s illness, which led to her needing to drop out of school, was due to the reaction she had from receiving the HPV vaccine.

The HPV vaccine uses a medicine called Gardasil to protect girls from developing cervical cancer when they are adults. It protects against seven out of 10 cervical cancers. The vaccine has been offered to all girls in first year in secondary school since 2010. To date, 240,000 girls have been fully vaccinated against HPV, according to the HSE.

Smyth is a member of REGRET (Reactions and Effects of Gardasil Resiltin in Extreme Trauma), a parent-led support group for girls and women who believe they have been experiencing health difficulties due to the vaccination.

450 girls have come forward as of August 2017 to REGRET, complaining of health issues they believe are due to the vaccine. Figures are yet to be released from June-December 2018.

“Initially we had support [from some members of the government]. But now, we are being ignored. The girls are being ignored and it is morally inconceivable,” said Smyth.

The HPV vaccine is administered in three doses. On the HSE website, they say that “HPV vaccines have been shown to be very safe”. They also state that the vaccine can cause some short term side effects and few side effects. They also state that “like most vaccines, severe allergic reactions are extremely rare”.

“No medicine or vaccine is 100 per cent safe and no vaccine is 100 per cent effective. Three in 10,000 will suffer a serious adverse event,” stated Kevin Connolly, speaking about the HPV vaccine. Connolly is the former chairperson of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and currently on board of the Heath Products Regulatory Authority.

“See, it’s not one symptom you can isolate, it’s a cluster,” Smyth explained.

“They are so isolated. You know, friends and school mates forget that they are there,” she added.

When asked what she  would tell parents to do in regards to their children receiving the HPV vaccine she said: “We would never advise anyone what to do. We just ask them to do their research”.

Smyth explained that their main aim isn’t to warn everyone off the vaccine but to prevent future children from enduring the “absolute nightmare” that these girls are currently going through. They want to establish who is pre-disposed and eliminate them from getting the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine, unlike many other vaccines, does not inject a small dose of, in this case, cervical cancer for immunity. The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella does work in this manner.

In Ireland, the first MMR vaccine is given to children at 12 months old. They then receive a second dose at age four to five when they are in primary school. The vaccine contains weakened versions of live measles, mumps and rubella viruses. As the viruses are weakened, people who have recently had the vaccine cannot infect other people.

Recently, there has been a surge in the number of measles and mumps cases in not just Ireland, but Europe as whole. In 2018, a total of 81 cases of measles were reported in Ireland, this is up from 25 in 2017, according to the HSE.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed the ‘anti-vaccination’ movement among the top health threats facing people across the globe in 2019.

“Since the invention of vaccines, there has always been doubts, but the benefits outweigh the risks. If we don’t vaccinate, people could die,” said Professor Kingston Mills, a professor at the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College.

Dr Andrew Wakefield released research in 1998 that claimed that the MMR vaccine was linked to the development of autism. His research was eventually discredited and he was struck off the medical register in the UK. However, the distrust of the MMR vaccine still lingered and contributed to an anti-vaccination movement.

Facebook have recently been put under pressure to stop groups which spread anti-vaccination ideas. One group, called ‘Stop Mandatory Vaccination’ has more than 150,000 members.

In Ireland, vaccination is not mandatory. Parents must consent to vaccinations for children and young people up to the age of 16, according to Citizens Information.

Dr. Anthony Breslin, a specialist in communicable diseases who works in the HSE said that mandatory vaccination is okay in theory but not in practice.

“Leaving aside the liberty issue of mandatory vaccination all health care interventions should be based on informed choice with the person being provided with the best real information. The second problem is that there are always accepted ‘opt-outs’ to mandatory vaccination such as medical, moral beliefs and religious. Hence, the uptake rates often published to illustrate how effective mandatory vaccination often exclude the ‘opt-outs’ from their baseline figures,” he told The College View.

“When my son was diagnosed I couldn’t help but be sceptical when I heard about the MMR vaccine. After doing research, and since the theory was disproved, of course, I believe in vaccinating children against measles, mumps and rubella,” said Orla Buggle, a mother of a son with classic autism.

“However, what I don’t think a lot of people understand is that there is still no reason why autism occurs. As a parent, it is a very hard reality to accept. We want answers, and I guess when we thought there might be one, a lot of people clung to that hope,” she added.

Ciara O’Loughlin

Image credit: Credit: Shutterstock