At least five Galway girls are suffering a catalogue of life-changing debilitating ailments which they blame on the cervical cancer vaccine.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority has stated that it has received 934 reports of suspected adverse reactions to the human pappilomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil, administered to teenagers to protect against a virus that causes seven out of ten cervical cancers. These included dizziness, headache, fainting, injection site swelling, injection site pain, raised temperature, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting.
Reports of persisting or chronic fatigue or severe pain, in some cases with other non-specific symptoms such as drowsiness, gastrointestinal upset, joint swelling, flu like illness and menstrual disorders have also been received.
These were forwarded to the European Medicines Agency’s EudraVigilance database for inclusion in global signal detection activities.
A review published earlier this month by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) dismissed a connection between the vaccine and two reported syndromes, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition where the heart rate increases abnormally on sitting or standing up, together with symptoms such as dizziness, fainting and weakness, as well as headache, aches and pains, nausea and fatigue.
However 127 cases of severe ongoing side effects in young Irish girls have been catalogued by a support group set up parents to fight for better treatment and to raise awareness about the risks associated with the vaccine.
At least five of them are from Galway, according to Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who is backing the parents in their campaign.
Regret – Reactions and Effects of Gardasil Resulting in Extreme Trauma – believes a pattern of debilitating illnesses, including extreme fatigue, chronic pain and constant fits, has resulted from the vaccine in their daughters who were healthy and extremely sporty before taking part in the vaccination programme currently rolled out at secondary schools.
They point to the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s own clinical trials where 2.5% (one in 40) of participants reported a serious adverse event after taking the vaccine.
In addition, 3.3% (one in 30) also reported a new auto-immune condition. The parents say the risks outweigh the benefits with the current rate of incidence of cervical cancer in Ireland at 13 per 100,000 (or 0.013%).
The Irish parents are not alone in their campaign against the vaccine. A Spanish support group has criticised the focus of the EMA review, saying the two syndromes were only officially diagnosed in a small minority of cases.
In Denmark a study published by the Danish Medical Journal in February found there was a consistency in the symptoms of 53 patients examined, which included “pronounced autonomic dysfunction including different degrees of orthostatic intolerance, severe non-migraine-like headache, excessive fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, gastrointestinal discomfort and widespread pain of a neuropathic character”.
“Our findings neither confirm nor dismiss a causal link to the Q-HPV vaccine, but they suggest that further research is urgently warranted to clarify the pathophysiology behind the symptoms experienced in these patients and to evaluate the possibility and the nature of any causal link and hopefully establish targeted treatment options.”
In September the Danish health authorities replaced the Gardasil vaccine with its competitor Cervarix. Japan withdrew its recommendation for a HPV vaccine in 2013 due to concerns about long-term pain and numbness. Last August guidelines approved by the Japan Medical Association (JMA) for the evaluation and management of symptoms that begin after HPV vaccine injection were issued to healthcare professionals.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has stated in the Dáil that the vaccine protects against two high-risk types of HPV that caused 73 per cent of all cervical cancers and could save an estimated 60 lives annually in Ireland.
“While no medicine (including vaccines) is entirely without risk, the safety profile of Gardasil has been continuously monitored since it was first authorised both nationally and at EU level,” he said.
“Healthcare professionals should therefore continue using them in accordance with the current product information.”
The HSE said in a statement that 300 women annually are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Ireland and 100 die from the disease. All cervical cancers are linked to high risk HPV types.
“Gardasil has been found to be over 99% effective in preventing pre-cancerous lesions associated with HPV types 16 and 18 in young women aged 16-26 years. Gardasil has been found to be over 99% effective in preventing HPV 6 or 11 related genital warts.
“The impact of a population wide Gardasil vaccination programme has been demonstrated in Australia where there has been a 50% decline in high grade cervical abnormalities in girls under 18 years and a 93% reduction in the number of diagnoses of genital warts in women up to 21 years of age.
“ There has also been an 82% reduction in genital warts diagnosed in heterosexual men up to 21 years of age which is attributed to herd immunity.”
The executive also insisted there was no evidence of long term “sequelae” to Gardasil.
The HSE pointed out that by March 2015, over 187 million doses of Gardasil had been distributed to 72 million people worldwide either as part of national immunisation programmes or by private doctors.
Life was changed forever by vaccine for cervical cancer
Mary O’Malley* from Galway City, said her twelve-year-old daughter had been a sports fanatic before receiving the HPV vaccine in 2010.
After the first shot she had sore glands, headaches and tiredness, all normal symptoms which subsided after a few days.
Following the second shot, she had profuse bleeding from the injection site and then developed severe headaches. Her mom put it down to her being run down from doing too much sport.
Within eleven months the teenager was barely able to get out of bed. She was surviving on rice cakes and water yet piled on three stone in two months.
Every inch of her body ached. Numerous trips to the GP and tests conducted at the hospital failed to get a diagnosis other than teenage hormones or emotional problems.
She eventually had to give up school and studied at home for the final two years, managing to pass her leaving cert despite her illnesses. In 2013 a paediatrician diagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome. It was only when Mary discovered a parent in America complaining about the exact same symptoms in her daughter on a health website that a link with the HPV vaccine emerged.
“From day one my daughter said she didn’t feel right after the vaccine and I didn’t listen to her,” she sighs, tears in her eyes.
“The initial symptoms – she’s learned to cope with them – but now there’s new chronic pains, her left leg has started to turn in, 18 months ago she lost her eye sight, it came back but the peripheral sight in her left eye never came back. She’s under a neurologist for ice pick headaches,” explains Mary.
“She has no social life, she can’t go into town, she’s never been to a disco, she couldn’t go to her debs. She’s lost most of her friends since dropping out of school – yet nobody cares.”
A dad from South Galway said his 15-year-old daughter was a county camogie player before her life changed dramatically five months ago. She collapsed on a GAA pitch and was out cold for thirteen minutes.
After that, the fits kept occurring, even when she was sitting on a chair. She sleeps up to 20 hours a day and can no longer go to school. A single dad, he cannot leave her alone for long in case she passes out.
Medical tests have revealed low blood pressure but so far no definite reason has been uncovered for her dramatic change in health.
When he read accounts of the girls published on the Regret website, he recognised all of the symptoms, none of which were present before she got the vaccine when she was twelve.
“My girl’s personality has changed completely. She used to be so outgoing. She used to do sean nós dancing. She can’t do anything now. The other mothers don’t want her over because they’re afraid she’ll collapse.”
After meeting with eight such parents from across the region, Oranmore Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has raised the plight of the girls in the Seanad. She is calling on the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to set up a multidisciplinary team to investigate the cases and to properly treat the teenagers.
She is also urging the HSE to accurately outline the possible side effects in their leaflets so that parents can make an informed choice.
“These girls all have very similar symptoms in common which they only developed after the vaccine and they can’t find out why they have them. They were all gifted at sports. We have a duty of care to them and to the next round of girls who get the vaccine – we could be robbing their teenage years from them,” he exclaimed.
“We’re not trying to scaremonger – I’ve been subjected to a lot of abuse on social media since I raised this. But these girls are very sick, they’re totally debilitated, their personalities have changed. The doctors’ hands are tied because this is public health policy.”
Mary would dearly like a holistic assessment of her daughter’s condition so that an overall plan of action could be drawn up together by medics across the specialities.
“Denmark and Japan have clinics up and running and protocols there to treat these girls. We want to be able to go to a GP without being dismissed, without being told it’s in their heads. Say that to a girl who is a bungling mess, who can’t put on her clothes because of the horrific pain, who can’t brush her teeth or even stand up.”
*Names changed or not used to protect the privacy of the girls
GMIT worker turns her hand to making face masks
A member of staff in GMIT’s School of Design and Creative Arts has been putting her creative skills and resources to invaluable use since April –making hundreds of reusable face masks.
The coverings are tailored for use in nursing homes and more recently for GMIT staff who opt to wear them on return to campus.
Textiles Technician Kelly Roberts from Galway city is making on average 75 non-medical masks a week while continuing to remotely provide technical support to some 40 students on the BA in Design (Fashion & Textiles Design) and also homeschooling her two young children.
Kelly and colleagues are also busy preparing a plan for the safe return to campus of staff and students, in compliance with the HSE’s social distancing measures and public health guidelines.
“I really wanted to use my skills and resources from GMIT to help fight this Coronavirus pandemic, but it had to be something I could do at home and around my children’s daily schedule and GMIT work,” she said.
“I am lucky to have access to the necessary resources in the Textiles Department as shortly after shutdown we were allowed back into the campus for a quick visit to collect items, while adhering to strict physical distancing. I was able to bring a sewing machine and threads home where I set up my workstation,” she added.
Kelly is relying solely on donations of fabric from friends and colleagues. “Mostly I use high quality cotton duvet covers and sheets as they are easy to fashion into non-medical masks, and everyone needs an excuse to clean out their hot press!” she laughed.
She is currently making on average 75 masks a week although it varies from day to day. I started by giving them to nursing homes around Galway and people on the frontline – but through social media, she is now sending masks to locations as far away as Donegal.
Then GMIT Health & Safety Officer Doreen Geoghegan asked her to provide reusable face coverings for GMIT staff who may opt to use them, as currently the institute is working on its Return to Campus Protocol plan which includes a risk assessment component.
“If staff avail of the offer, it will keep me busy for many more weeks and I would hope to have a reusable mask available for those who wish to use them come September, all going well,” she said.
GMIT is currently putting plans in place to ensure public health measures are implemented through social distancing, handwashing and hygiene measures in the first instance. Face coverings are an optional extra personal measure to assist in preparation for winter coughs and colds to prevent the spread of infection.
If anyone would like to donate good quality fabric to Kelly’s campaign, they can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org
GAA legends reap rich rewards from ‘cocooning chats’
Double All-Ireland winning Galway football manager, John O’Mahony, has ‘enjoyed immensely’ a novel project involving local GAA sporting legends chatting with people cocooning during the coronavirus crisis.
Along with a number of other sporting personalities from the county – including Cyril Farrell, Joe Connolly and Ray Silke – the Mayo man who guided Galway to All-Ireland football successes in 1998 and 2001 has spoken to many ‘cocooners’ over recent weeks.
“I think that I enjoyed it more than the people I was talking to. It really was a most enjoyable project to be involved with and some of those I spoke to, triggered memories of some things that I had forgotten about myself.
“It even brought me into the world of Zoom [conference video style telephone chats] with a number or residents from the Cheshire Home in Galway city.
“To be honest about it, most of the time I just enjoyed listening to the stories that these people had to tell. One man from Loughrea had gone to an incredible number of All-Ireland finals in football and hurling over the past 60 years,” John O’Mahony told the Connacht Tribune.
The Galway GAA Legends On-Call project was the brainchild of Oranmore’s Paul Byrnes – a former Executive Editor of GAA with RTE Sport – and Galway city ‘Community Champion’ Brendan Mulry.
“People like Cyril Farrell, John O’Mahony, Joe Connolly and Ray Silke, who have given many magical and memorable moments to Galway GAA fans, have very kindly made themselves available for this project,” Paul Byrnes told the Connacht Tribune.
Community Champions have been appointed by the Government as part of their outreach programme to help communities cope with the impact of the COVID-19, and Brendan Mulry has been delighted with the response to the Galway Legends initiative.
“While there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules with the project, the focus is really on these fans who need this most.
“Think of a parent or grandparent who is at home isolating who would love to chat all things GAA with a legend of the game,” said Brendan Mulry.
Galway GAA Chairperson, Pat Kearney, said that the idea was ‘a great one in unprecedented times’ and he also praised the ongoing role of Galway hurling icon, Iggy Clarke, who had done a huge amount of work in ‘chairing’ the county’s health and wellbeing committee.
While Galway All-Ireland successes against Kildare in 1998 and Meath in 2001 were the obvious big ‘chat lines’ with John O’Mahony, he said that the conversations embraced a whole range of GAA events.
“I suppose that having retired from politics and with the coronavirus restrictions in place, I found myself with a bit of time on my hands, and it really was wonderful to chat about so many GAA memories.
“These were very knowledgeable people on all-things GAA and the only thing I can say is, that if they enjoyed the chats, half as much as I did, then we’re all winners,” said John O’Mahony.
Even though the cocooning restrictions have eased somewhat over recent weeks for the elderly and those with medical conditions, the chats are still ongoing.
Anyone wishing to participate – or who might know of a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or elderly friend interested in taking part – can do so by contacting Brendan Mulry on 087-2194243 or online at: email@example.com
Paul Byrnes also thanked the GAA clubs around the county for their ‘trojan efforts’ in helping those most in need during those difficult times.
“At this time of year, we should be looking forward to the height of the championship season, but that seems a long way off at the moment.
“However, the GAA is still a major social outlet, and although the absence of the games is hugely felt, the clubs – and their members – are still doing great work to help those most in need,” said Paul Byrnes.
Ex-Minister seeks aid for Gaeltacht households
Money set aside to subsidise student accommodation while attending Gaeltacht courses should still be granted to the ‘mná tí’ to help offset the devastating impact of the cancellation of Irish language summer colleges across the region.
That’s the proposal from former minister and Connemara resident Éamon Ó Cuív, who said that the loss of the Irish colleges for the first time in 116 years has been a massive economic blow to the Gaeltacht.
Households which take in twelve students immersing themselves in Gaeltacht life for three courses can make a gross profit before tax of nearly €15,000 through a subsidy from the Department and a fee from the Irish colleges.
Out of that they must pay for food, light, heat and wear and tear of their homes as well as putting in long hours to provide full board.
Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív estimates that the 500 Galway mná tí would likely make 20% to 30% profit from that once all expenses are paid out.
Yet they are not entitled to the Covid-19 payment of €350 a week because they were not working at the time the pandemic lockdown was declared.
“They work seven days a week for up to 66 days – that’s equivalent to 13 weeks. If they got the Covid payment that would be €4,550. They should be getting the grant equivalent of the Covid payment from the Department of the Gaeltacht which already has the €10 a night subsidy in its coffers for the 27,000 students which would have been attending the courses,” he believes.
“The people who benefit from that subsidy are the thousands of children who get full board and Irish language classes for 22 days at a very affordable rate which are supervised at all times – the record of kids not coming to harm is unparalleled.”
Deputy Ó Cuív understands that a proposal for a grant package to be paid to the accommodation providers as well as the colleges which will also have no income this year was brought by the Department of the Gaeltacht to the Department of Public Expenditure. But it has yet to be approved.
“I’m very, very worried that they’ve had this proposal since late March but have not signed off on it. The Department has in the region of €6 million from the subsidy,” he said.
“I have tabled a question to the Minister for the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan about whether she has brought a need memo into the Cabinet about this so the question of whether to support the people of the Gaeltacht can be discussed by the 15 ministers.”
Colleges, the mná tí and the halls and facilities funded by the Department rely on income from the Irish colleges to pay for things like insurance.
He also called on the Minister to examine a new grant that would encourage families to stay in a house in the Gaeltacht during a shorter period like five days in August.
“This could happen over three or four weeks in August on a rolling basis. The scheme could help retrieve some of the season for the mná tí. It would also give a unique opportunity to families to learn the Irish language together in a programme.”
Deputy Madigan replied that Minister and Senator Sean Kyne as well as officials in the Gaeltacht Department have met the college representative organisation, CONCOS, to examine support packages.
“We are aware that it is important and intrinsic to the entirety of the Gaeltacht, not just the mná tí. The Deputy can rest assured that this is on our radar and something on which we are working intensely.”