Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Other Questions

Vaccination Programme

3:50 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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66. To ask the Minister for Health if he is aware of revelations made by a doctor (details supplied) to the World Health Organization, of the manipulation of data and the suppression of science, in order to maintain the illusion of the safety of the human papilloma virus vaccine, in the face of valid contradictory evidence and that the length of time for which Gardasil is effective is suspect; and if he will address the serious health issues experienced by more than 200 girls, where the common denominator is the vaccine. [3940/16]

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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We are back to the issue of vaccines, in particular in regard to a recent report to the World Health Organization, which does raise concerns about it, and the reality of the more than 200 girls in this country who are presenting with very serious issues.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which was introduced in 2010, protects girls from developing cervical cancer when they are adults. It also protects against head and neck cancer, anal cancer and genital warts. It is available free of charge from the HSE for all girls in the first year of secondary school.

I am aware of claims of an association between the HPV vaccination and a number of conditions experienced by a group of young women. It appears that some of the girls first suffered symptoms around the time they received the HPV vaccine and, understandably, some parents have connected the vaccine to their daughters' illness. I want to make it clear that anyone who is suffering ill health is eligible to seek medical attention and to access appropriate health and social care services, irrespective of the cause of their symptoms or what they believe to be the cause of their symptoms.

In 2013, the World Health Organization's global advisory committee on vaccine safety reviewed data from post-licensure monitoring of the HPV vaccine. The review found no new adverse outcomes relating to the HPV vaccine. I am aware from the media of allegations of manipulation and suppression of scientific data relating to the HPV made by an individual doctor. The doctor wrote an open letter of complaint to the director general of the World Health Organization on 14 January 2016. I am advised that the World Health Organization has not yet responded to this letter.

In recent days my Department made contact with the World Health Organization and expressed its interest in being advised of the World Health Organization's response as soon as it is made public. I wish to know what the World Health Organization's response to the allegations is before commenting further or taking a view on them.

In November 2015, the European Medicines Agency completed a detailed scientific review of the HPV vaccine which found no evidence of a causal link between the vaccine and two conditions that it has been suggested may be linked to the vaccine. On 12 January 2016, the Commission endorsed the conclusion of the European Medicines Agency that there is no need to change the way HPV vaccines are used or to amend the product information.

4:00 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I listened to the Minister's exchange earlier with Deputy Daly during which he said that the symptoms are real. That is different from a previous exchange the Minister and I had on this issue. The reality is that there are over 220 girls whose parents are distraught by the change they see in their daughters. Young women, who were bright, articulate, intelligent, going to school and looking forward to their lives are now unable to get out of bed and have to drop out of school, in addition to presenting with a number of other symptoms. This has been dragging on for some time. The parents made a very worthwhile presentation at the health committee and were definite that they are not against vaccines. The reality is that these girls are all presenting with symptoms and we are not getting to the bottom of them. There does not appear to be an urgency to do so. If it is not the vaccine then what is the cause?

There is also a serious issue around the lack of substantial information provided to parents beforehand. They were given a leaflet providing limited information in the schools and were directed to a website if they wanted to check further. These are very ill young women. Will we have a proper investigation into the cause of their illness so those issues can be addressed?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I would like to correct the record, if I have ever suggested otherwise. If a patient has symptoms, the symptoms are real. If a patient has pain, it is real and if a patient has a headache, it is real. The patient's symptoms are always real. In this and other circumstances, a person may have a range of different illnesses. Perhaps part of the reason why there has been delay in diagnoses or they have not received the treatment and support they need is because the symptoms have been connected - erroneously, in my view - to this vaccine. It may be the case that there is a whole range of people with a whole different range of symptoms that could be attributable to any number of physical or mental illnesses. The fact it is being tied up with a belief about this vaccine is impeding them from getting the care they need. Perhaps the Deputy will give that some consideration.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I know from some of the parents that the doctors they brought their children to were at a loss as to what could be the reason for the symptoms they were presenting with. It appeared that, from what I have been told, they had nowhere to go with their inquiries into why these girls were presenting with these symptoms. There was a real problem there. The World Health Organization report that the Minister mentioned will be interesting. These are very ill girls and it seems we are saying that we do not know what caused it and we will not investigate. That does them a disservice because their lives have changed. Some of the parents have been circulating video clips of their daughters to make people aware of it. It is gruesome to see the physical change between what they were like to what they are like now. Something is causing this change and the HSE should be coming forward to investigate it. We owe it to them.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Does the Minister have anything further to say?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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No, not unless the Deputy has a further question.

Question No. 67 replied to with Written Answers.