“Laura Brennan’s legacy will be to save the lives of other young women from the devastating cancer that claimed her own.”
Laura Brennan is testimony to a great truth that one person can make a difference. The 26-year-old was a tireless campaigner for the HPV vaccine. After receiving a terminal diagnosis in 2017, she contacted the health service saying she wanted to try to help others.
“This illness is devastating and it’s going to take my life but the good news is there’s a vaccine that you can get that prevents it. HPV caused my cancer. I just wanted parents to know there is an alternative.” she said.
The vaccine, administered in schools, protects against several strains of the Human Papilloma Virus which cause around three-quarters of cervical cancers.
Uptake had been falling due to concerns raised about possible side effects – claims strongly refuted by public health officials.
But since Laura spoke out, uptake has surged from just 51 per cent that year to 70 per cent today.
Health minister Simon Harris said “the state owes her a debt of gratitude”.
“As a person, she was kind, funny and full of life. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Every time I met Laura or spoke with her, I was inspired by her. Amazing doesn’t do justice to her or her courage.”
Anne O’Connor of the Health Service Executive also said she “defined courage and generosity as she supported our work to ensure girls get the HPV vaccine, and are protected from this terrible cancer”.
Laura’s own family described her as “a light in the life of everyone who knew her; a wonderful daughter, sister and friend”.
“We are all incredibly proud of the work she did in the last 18 months to help protect other young women like herself from the cancer that has taken her life today.
“Laura used her voice, her generosity and her energy to help parents to make informed choices and protect their daughters from cervical cancer.
“She wanted to make a difference, and use the time that she had to right what she felt was a great wrong.”
BEO was honoured to welcome Laura’s family to the stage last Sunday in the Armada Hotel, Co. Clare. Bernie, Larry and Fergal spoke with courage, strength and determination as they shared Laura’s story and reiterated her message to raise awareness of the HPV vaccine.
Laura’s contribution is immeasurable and her legacy will continue way into the future, it will live on in those young girls who have been vaccinated and whose lives will be saved because of her.
Everyone present last Sunday sat in awe at their willingness to share their story and indeed Laura’s story for the good of others.
Laura was an exceptional person with a powerful message. We will be forever indebted to her.
HPV Vaccination Programme in schools
The vaccine used as part of the school immunisation programme is called Gardasil 9. It is produced by MSD Ireland (Human Health).
Over 100 million people have been fully vaccinated with Gardasil worldwide. This includes over 260,000 people in Ireland.
HPV screening for females
Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you should have your cervical screening test (smear test) each time it’s due. This is because the HPV vaccine doesn’t give complete protection against cervical cancer.
HPV screening for males
There is no HPV screening currently available for males. The HPV vaccine is your best chance at protecting yourself against HPV-related cancers.
The HPV vaccine has been offered to girls in their first year of secondary school since 2010. This is because the most common cancer caused by the HPV virus is cervical cancer which only affects women.
From September 2019, boys will now also be offered the HPV vaccine. This is because HPV can cause cancers in boys too.
Please note that if you have finished secondary school, you can still talk to your GP about getting vaccinated privately.
The more young people vaccinated – both boys and girls – the better we can control the spread of the infection.