By Dr. Scott Hamstra, STChealth Medical Advisor

Dedicated passionate Americans unite to walk, run, bike, dance, sing, march and more to find a Cure for Cancer, donating time and a billion dollars each year. It’s heartwarming to see people rising again and again to this challenge. Wouldn’t it be great if we could prevent cancer? Prevention is better, isn’t it? We all know it’s better to prevent car crashes and forest fires, right? Same with cancer – and if you haven’t heard, then I have terrific news for you – We can PREVENT CANCER. We have a way to prevent a really nasty group of cancers though vaccination.

This isn’t just a hopeful idea! We have been doing this now for about a decade and we know it’s working – the prevalence of the HPV virus that causes the cancer has declined by 86%!*

We’ve known this for two years now. Why isn’t this celebrated more and shouted from the mountaintop? This is front page good news.

The declines in HPV disease prevalence noted within just ten years since vaccine introduction are truly incredible, and it is noteworthy that these declines are helping Americans across all economic, social, ethnic, racial groups.

Such great success should be celebrated at many levels — 

a shout out to our health professionals on the vaccination frontlines! Look at what they’ve done in less than a generation:

Prevalence of HPV decreased overall from

11.5% to 1.8% among girls aged 14 to 19 years

18.5% to 5.3% among women aged 20 to 24 years.

This calculates out to an 86% decline in HPV prevalence! YES!

Amazing progress isn’t it? We’re winning on a level we’ve never played on before. Yes, indeed – Prevention is the best cure!

* Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes approximately 30,000 cancers in the United States annually (1). HPV vaccination was introduced in 2006 to prevent HPV-associated cancers and diseases (1). Cervical cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer in women (1). Whereas HPV- associated cancers typically take decades to develop, screen-detected high-grade cervical lesions (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grades 2 [CIN2], 3 [CIN3], and adenocarcinoma in situ, collectively CIN2+) develop within a few years after infection and have been used to monitor HPV vaccine impact. See MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Report, 2019 Apr 19;68(15):337-343. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6815a1.

The Most Effective Vax Spokesperson Ever?

The Heartbreaking, Heartwarming Story of Laura Brennan

By Dale Dauten, Syndicated Columnist

Vaccines don’t save people, vaccinations do.

Juliette Kayyem

Picture this: Against a backdrop of anti-vax scare tactics in Ireland, the HPV vaccination rate drops from 87% to 50%. Then, one young woman becomes the spokesperson for a campaign that reverses that drop and within a couple of more years has the vax rate is back to 80% and climbing. That’s over a fifty percent increase in vaccination rates, mostly because of one person, a twenty-something Irish woman named Laura Brennan. Here’s her story…

In 2016, at the age of 24, Laura was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Being an optimist, she expected the treatments would cure her. They didn’t. By 2017, the cancer metastasized and it was terminal. Her response? To contact the HSE, the Irish version of the national public health agency, the Health Service Executive, to volunteer to help, saying later,

“When I found out my cancer was terminal, I wanted to use my voice for good and for the last 12 months, I haven’t shut up.”

If you’ve followed the progress of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, then you know that it’s faced some tough anti-vaccination blowback. In 2013, usage in Japan dropped from 70% to near 1%, and in Denmark in 2014 plummeted 76% to 17%. The decline in Ireland, from over 80% to 50%, had been going on a while when she Laura volunteered her help in 2017.

So what did she do that worked so well? Her brother, Fergal Brennan, speaking at the Global Vaccination Summit after Laura’s death, summed up her effect this way…

“In essence, she was just an ordinary girl facing death from a preventable disease… Laura gave this horrible illness that is cervical cancer a powerful, relatable and beautiful face.”

Her message was never scary-creepy like those anti-smoking ads showing a disfigured smoker; no, her talk-show appearances and her public service ads were more powerful than that. They weren’t scary; they were heartbreaking. In one ad (a link is below), she simply introduced herself along with some other young women, and then says, “The vaccine saves lives. It could have saved mine.”

I believe the key word in her brother’s assessment of her impact was “relatable.” How could any parent of a pre-teen watch the happy, charismatic Laura – that’s her below on of her many TV appearances, laughing beneath the wig she wore after losing her hair — but eventually getting to the heart-rending reality of her future, saying…

“I know my parents will take good care of me like they always do – I’m so lucky. But they’ll come up and ask me am I okay, and I’ll be in pain. I know I’ll tell them I’m grand, or I’ll crack a joke, and they’ll give me a smile back. But in their eyes, I’ll see pain.”

How could any parent of a pre-teen hear that and not be on the phone to schedule a vaccination?

Here’s a link to the HSE commercial mentioned above:

Here’s a link to an Irish cancer researcher telling Laura’s story to the NY Times:

(This is the best thing he said, useful to anyone planning to throw statistics at parents: “You never change minds without changing hearts.”)

(Thanks to the Irish website, The Irish Times, Ireland’s HSE and the NY Times for their reporting on this story. First photo HSE, Second photo

Open PDF Version


By Bill Davenhall

Will return in the next issue of the IINews. (Bill is on a cross-county road trip, collecting data.)