The Republic of Ireland is showing no signs of reversing its decision to shelve its cervical cancer vaccination scheme, following the latest in a series of meetings between pharmaceutical companies and cancer experts.

On Friday, GlaxoSmithKline facilitated a meeting between cervical cancer expert Anne Szarewski of Cancer Research UK and a panel of key medical advisers expected to hold further discussions with Irish healthcare regulators over human papillovirus vaccinations. The HPV virus is the main cause of cervical cancer, which killed 81 women in Ireland last year.

Discussing the outcome of her meeting, Dr Szarewski believes the government is unlikely to change its position anytime in the near future. She said: “the question is not ‘which vaccine is it going to be?’, rather ‘is there going to be a vaccine at all and if so when’?”.

Continuing controversy surrounds Minister for Health Mary Harney’s announcement in November that the HPV vaccination programme – which was introduced in August – could no longer be supported under current economic conditions. Lack of funding for continuing the programme is attributed to the economy’s heavier dependence on the construction industry than in other European countries. A report published by the National Consumer Agency last month states that construction accounted for 24.5% of Gross National Product in Ireland in 2006.

However, pressure from charities and patient groups is mounting. European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA) president Pamela Morton has branded the decision as “downright unfair” and called for Ms Harney’s “long overdue” resignation. Robert Music, director of cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust, has labelled the Republic’s excuse of citing an industry with no direct link to healthcare as “astounding and embarrassing”.

Two HPV vaccines are currently on the market: GSK’s product Cervarix and Sanofi Pasteur MSD’s jab Gardasil. Both vaccines protect against two of the HPV types that cause cervical cancer, and some other genital cancers; Gardasil also protects against two of the HPV types that cause genital warts. Both companies are hoping to convince the Irish Republic to reinstate its HPV vaccination programme.

The ECCA will be running a prevention week in January 2009 to promote cervical cancer awareness in the Republic and Ms Morton hopes to use the event to overturn the government’s decision. By Nick Mason