Being HPV aware can save lives

Clara Kelly

The human papiloma virus (HPV) vaccine is now administered free of charge for both boys and girls in their first year of secondary school.

The vaccine which can help prevent multiple cancers as well as genital warts, has been offered to female first year secondary school students since 2010. As of 2019, it was also made available for their male counterparts.

The vaccination is most effective in this younger age group (9-15) as opposed to older teenagers or adults, according to the HSE website.

The cut off age for the vaccination is 27, and once out of school, you must “talk to your GP and get vaccinated at your own cost.”

The most commonly occurring cancer caused by HPV is cervical cancer which directly affects women. For women who were never vaccinated, it can cost over 200 euro per injection.

Meanwhile back in 2017, the HSE rolled out a new scheme which meant gay and bisexual men aged 16-26 are now able to receive the immunisation for free through STI clinics and services.

The reason being that gay men do not benefit from the herd immunisation that straight men benefit from by young women being vaccinated.

One of these STI clinics is the Gay Mens Health Services Clinic on Heytesbury Street, Dublin 8.

According to the HSE uptake statistics report, while the vaccine dropped from an uptake of 72 per cent to 51 per cent in 2016-17, it rose to 62 per cent in 2018 due to campaigns targeted at fighting misinformation.

Some women might not have received the vaccine in school for a number of reasons. They may have been abroad, ill, or as it’s offered so young, simply unable due to parental disapproval. 

One such example of all three, is 20-year-old UCD student, Saoirse De Barra, who although a Limerick native went to school in Shanghai, making receiving the vaccination difficult.

The arts student also had to wait until third year to get the vaccine due to concerns from her family about the vaccinations safety. 

And when De Barra finally accessed the vaccine, she only ever had “two out of three” of the recommended doses because she was diagnosed with POCS (polycystic ovary syndrome.)

“My gynecologist at the time, recommended I not continue with a third dose” she told The College View.

For women out of school who may now want to receive the vaccine, they may need to visit Women’s Health Clinics, such as the Charter Medical Centre.

The clinic offers two strains of the injection, Gardasil, or Gardasil 9. Gardasil, protects against four types of HPV, 6, 11, 16 and 18. 

Meanwhile the more expensive Gardasil 9, protects against nine variations, protecting against strains 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58, as well as the more common four.

Gardasil, costs 240 euro for the first vaccine and 200, for the second and third. Gardasil 9 costs an extra 95 euro on top of that.

A former DCU student, Ciara O’Loughlin said: ” In 2009 when the vaccine was first made freely available… my mam hadn’t heard much about it and a friend of her’s who was a doctor said that she didn’t think there was enough research done on it yet”.

O’Loughlin mentioned that she is “frankly terrified of getting cervical cancer” because of the constant media buzz surrounding the Cervical Check scandal.

Clara Kelly

Image Credit: Maria Yager