By Jacky Jones
SECOND OPINION: HPV vaccination programme makes no economic sense, writes JACKY JONES
THE HSE is offering a new human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination programme to young girls in first and second year at secondary school. The organisation plans to immunise more than 46,000 girls in 2011, at a cost of €4 million. Does this represent value for money? HPV is a common virus: it is estimated that about 80 per cent of sexually active people will contract it at some stage in their lives.
The virus is passed on via skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity, not just intercourse. It is often referred to as the common cold of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and can cause genital warts, although many people have no symptoms.
Cervical cancer occurs in only a small number of those infected by HPV and takes many years to develop. In Ireland, fewer than 80 women die from cervical cancer each year, whereas more than 600 die from breast cancer and more than 500 of lung cancer. Does the number of women with cervical cancer justify a nationwide vaccination programme?
Two things have to happen before a woman develops cervical cancer. First, she has to contract the HPV virus. Second, her cervical cells need to be vulnerable to the effects of this virus. No one knows why so few women go on to develop cervical cancer given that so many are exposed to the HPV virus. Risk factors we know about are: having sex at an early age before the cervix is fully developed, having children very young, having large numbers of children, smoking, contracting other STIs such as chlamydia, and anything that makes the cervix more vulnerable to the effects of HPV.