This page provides information about the HPV virus and the HPV vaccine.
- Cervical cancer and the HPV virus
- The HPV vaccine
- The HPV vaccine- safe and effective
- The HPV vaccine in Ireland
Cervical cancer and the HPV virus
Each year in Ireland, over 250 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by a very common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). Anyone who is sexually active can contract HPV through contact with someone who already has the virus. Most people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but may never know they have been infected. Like other viral infections, such as a cold, HPV is usually cleared by the body’s immune system without the need for other treatment. However, a small percentage of people do not clear the infection, which can remain ‘dormant’ (inactive) in their bodies sometimes for many years. We do not know why some people’s immune systems clear the infection and some people’s do not.
There are over 200 types of HPV virus. Two types- HPV16 and HPV18 cause 70% of all cancers of the cervix. A HPV infection can cause changes to the cells of the cervix, creating abnormalities. Once these abnormalities become severe they can develop into cancer.
The HPV virus can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis and the throat. HPV infection can now be prevented by vaccination.
The HPV vaccine
HPV vaccines are now available which are more than 99% protective against infection with cancer-causing HPV virus types. Gardasil (HPV4) vaccine contains virus-like particles of HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. It is also designed to provide protection against genital warts, which are caused by low-risk types of HPV.
The HPV vaccine- safe and effective
The HPV vaccine is known to be most effective when given at the age of 12 to 13 years and will provide protection throughout adulthood. Since 2006, more than 200 million doses of the HPV vaccines have been distributed globally and over 80 million young girls and boys have been protected from developing cancer.
The impact of HPV vaccines on precancerous changes in the cervix is now well established in countries including Australia, Denmark and Scotland where precancerous growths of the cervix have been reduced by more than 50%.
The World Health Organization issued a statement on 17 December 2015 reaffirming HPV vaccine safety. You can read this statement here:
By May 2016, over 220 million doses of Gardasil® have been distributed worldwide, either as part of national immunisation programmes or by private doctors. Gardasil® is currently used in over 25 European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In January 2016, the European Commission endorsed the conclusion of the European Medical Agency, that there is no need to change the summary of product characteristics for Gardasil vaccine.
The HPV vaccine in Ireland
- All vaccines are monitored by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the European Medicines Agency
- Each year around 250 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 100 women die from the disease.
- The HPV vaccine prevents 7 out of 10 pre cancers and cancers developing.
- The HSE HPV vaccination programme commenced in 2010 and since then:
- 580,000 doses of Gardasil have been given to girls,
- Almost 220,000 school girls (over 80%) have received the full vaccine course,
- There has been constant safety monitoring of the vaccine in Ireland and worldwide since the vaccine was introduced over ten years ago. This has shown there has been no increase in the number of girls developing any long term medical condition (including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -CFS). There is no scientific evidence that the HPV vaccine causes CFS.
- The HPRA has received 1,096 reports of suspected adverse reactions in association with Gardasil:
- The vast majority of reports are consistent with the expected pattern of adverse effects,
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) estimated prevalence 0.2- 0.4% => expect 400-800 cases to occur by chance. The reported numbers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome after HPV vaccine are much less than expected.
You can download the information booklet for parents and guardians about the HPV vaccination here and you can read the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) for the Gardisil vaccination here.
The Marie Keating Foundation are members of the HPV Vaccination Alliance; a group of organisations that have come together to sign a Contract Against Cancer, specifically HPV- related cancers. To find out more, click here.