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*The late Laura Brennan appearing on The Late Late Show. 

LAURA BRENNAN’s tireless advocacy work has been acknowledged this evening with the HPV vaccine set to be made freely available to all women under 25.

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly (FF) has confirmed the news. He has written to the HSE to put in place a vaccination programme for women and a catch-up equivalent for male and female students in secondary school that may have missed the vaccine during the pandemic. No date for the expansion of the programme has been issued but the Minister has said he is “very keen” to implement a funded catch-up programme.

New advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) outlined the importance to “prioritise” women under the age of twenty five and current second-level students for the vaccine. NIAC is preparing new advice on whether to change from giving three doses of the HPV vaccine to just one, following a similar decision by British health authorities in February.

“This is an incredibly effective vaccine and I would like to see a catch-up programme rolled out as quickly as possible,” Minister Donnelly told The Irish Examiner. “We have a number of young women who were offered the HPV vaccine and didn’t take it at the time. I think there’s been a really strong response to the power of vaccines now and there are women who are saying they would like the vaccine but it is really expensive to get it privately

HSE officials received correspondence from the Minister on Friday and are to consult stakeholders before implementing a plan. The HSE’s school vaccination teams are currently working to give first year students that missed the vaccine an opportunity to avail of it.

HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual activity and affects men and women. It is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer, causing changes in cervical cells which if left untreated could lead to cancer.

The late, Laura Brennan a native of Ennis remains as the most high-profile advocate of the HPV vaccine with her family continuing to raise awareness since her death in 2019. Laura was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 24, after her diagnosis, she became involved in the campaign to raise awareness of the HPV vaccine to try to save lives. The HSE said that since Laura first contacted them in 2017, the uptake of the vaccine increased by almost 20 percentage points from 51% that year, to 70% at the time of her death, this later increased to 80% and the rate in Clare surpassed 90%.

On Friday evening, Laura’s brother Kevin described the development as “fantastic news” and said it was “one step closer to eradicating HPV related cancers in Ireland”. “Laura would be smiling tonight if she was still with us”.

Kevin acknowledged Minister Donnelly along with all other politicians, public health representatives and advocates who campaigned over recent years. “This decision will undoubtedly save many lives,” he said.

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