I propose to take Questions Nos. 1294 and 1311 together.
The immunisation programme in Ireland is based on the advice of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC). NIAC is an independent committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland comprising of experts in several specialties including infectious diseases, paediatrics and public health. The committee's recommendations are based on the prevalence of the relevant disease in Ireland and international best practice in relation to immunisation. It makes recommendations on vaccination policy to my Department. NIAC continues to revise recommendations to allow for the introduction of new vaccines in Ireland and to keep abreast of changes in the patterns of disease. Therefore, the immunisation schedule will continue to be amended over time.
As you are aware, NIAC recommended that the HPV vaccine should also be given to boys. The ages at which vaccines are recommended in the immunisation schedule are chosen by NIAC in order to give each child the best possible protection against vaccine preventable diseases. On foot of NIAC’s recommendation, my Department asked the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to undertake a health technology assessment (HTA) to establish the clinical and cost-effectiveness of extending the current immunisation programme, which offers HPV vaccination to all girls in their first year of second level education (generally 12 to 13 year olds), to a programme that also offers the vaccination to boys in their first year of secondary school.
HIQA completed the HTA in December 2018, recommending that the HPV immunisation programme be extended to include boys. As the HPV vaccine is preventative it is intended to be administered, if possible, before a person becomes sexually active, that is, before a person is first exposed to HPV infection. A policy decision was made to extend the HPV immunisation programme to include boys starting this September with the introduction of a 9-valent HPV vaccine. However, HIQA did not recommend inclusion of a catch-up programme for boys who have already completed the first year of secondary school.
My Department will continue to be guided by NIAC's recommendations on any emerging evidence on this issue in the future.