Cervical cancer vaccination will
be available for girls already in first year and for those entering
secondary school, writes MUIRIS HOUSTON
THE HPV vaccination programme against cervical cancer is now expected to start in September, targeting both first and second year girls in its initial stages, the Health Service Executive’s leading vaccination expert has indicated.
In a memo sent to Prof Brendan Drumm and other senior HSE managers and seen by The Irish Times, Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director of population health, has recommended the option of vaccinating girls who are now in first year at secondary school as well as those who will be in first year by September.
Dr Kelleher said this option offers some economies of scale and will allow more time to complete discussions with key stakeholders such as school principals and management boards.
Last month, the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, reversed an earlier Government decision not to fund cervical cancer vaccination and announced that a national HPV vaccination programme would commence in 2010. This programme, which Ms Harney said would start before the summer, was to target 30,000 12-year-old girls at a cost of €3 million.
However, Dr Kelleher warned of a number of “key challenges” if the proposed timescale is to be met.
Among these is the absence of school vaccination programmes in parts of HSE Dublin North East and HSE West and the focus of existing programmes on primary rather than secondary schools.
“There is a requirement for a suitable location for [HPV] vaccination in each [secondary] school. This is currently a challenge in many schools around the country,” Dr Kelleher writes in the memo.
He points out to senior managers that the current school vaccination returns are completed “on paper” but that an ICT system will be needed for the HPV programme.
“The ICT system must link vaccination history with future screening by the cervical cancer screening programme,” he advised.
There is an acknowledgement that the manpower requirements of the current swine flu immunisation programme have created a backlog of routine school vaccination and screening programmes. Because of the current measles outbreak in different parts of the country, there is an urgent need to administer MMR vaccine to four- to five-year-old children in primary schools, the memo states.
Although the operation of mass vaccination swine flu clinics are expected to be scaled down in coming months, the need to start a HPV vaccination programme against cervical cancer for 12 and 13-year-old girls means that staff are likely to be redirected to this programme, leading to fears of continuing neglect of statutory child health surveillance programmes.
The HPV vaccine is given in three separate doses over a six-month period. This equates to a requirement for 180,000 HPV vaccines to be administered nationally.