Cancer Jab To Be Rolled Out Next Month

A VACCINATION programme against cervical cancer will be available in schools in Larne Borough next month, according to the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.

Larne-based GP Dr Brian Dunn said this week that the chief medical officer’s announcement of a vaccination programme against the disease for schoolgirls is an important public health measure.

The vaccine, Cervarix, protects girls aged 12 to 17 – younger girls in the 12 to 13 category will have the option of being vaccinated. Older teenagers who have not been vaccinated can access the voluntary programme through their GP.

A Trust spokeswoman confirmed that the programme will be made available in schools here at the beginning of October.

But some parents’ groups have expressed concern saying families should teach daughters to abstain from sexual activity.

Dr Dunn, chairman of the British Medical Association’s (NI) GPs’ committee, welcomed the announcement.

“This is an important public health measure and we would encourage all girls in this age group to take up the offer of vaccination. We are also pleased to see that this programme will be extended via the GP network to the wider teenage age group in Northern Ireland.”

The vaccine targets the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) virus, which can cause cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women worldwide.

Dr Dunn said that the main programme will be administered through school nursing stations. The catch-up programme in GP surgeries, he said, gives older teenagers the option of immunisation.

Asked about concerns expressed by some parents’ groups, Dr Dunn said: “It’s not to protect them when they are 12 or 13, it’s to protect them throughout their life. Evidence shows it’s not as effective from over the age of 25.”

Dr Dunn added that he hopes the uptake is as close to 100 percent as possible for the younger age group.

The uptake for older girls may be a little less, he suggested, given the time devoted to studying and final exams.

The Ulster Cancer Foundation (UCF) also welcomed the rollout of a new vaccine programme. Liz Atkinson, head of care services at UCF, said: “HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer and over 80 women in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with the disease each year. Cervical cancer has few warning signs and develops over a long period of time. It can progress from a pre-cancerous and completely treatable stage, to a widespread cancer if left untreated.

“By introducing the vaccination programme in girls before they become sexually active, the vaccine protects against the main strains of HPV, thereby significantly reducing the risk of developing cervical cancer later in life.”