The Assistant Director of Nursing at the Marie Keating Foundation has urged all eligible First Year students to get the HPV vaccine.

Bernie Carter said the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a group of highly contagious viruses, which includes approximately 14 that can cause nearly all cervical cancer cases and cancer in boys and men.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Carter said the HPV vaccine will save lives and urged people to make an informed decision.

"You've got to look at the science and don't call to Mr Google, because you'll get all the wrong and get all the scary information," she said.

"Go to the World Health Organization, go to the Center of Disease Control, look at our own HSE ... and what they're all saying is that the vaccine is safe. The vaccine has been trialled and tested in over a million people since 2006, and this vaccine has shown to be safe and to save lives.

"We know that cervical cancer can be prevented ... through the HPV vaccination and, later in life, with HPV cervical screening," she added.

Ms Carter said the vaccine is best administered before people become sexually active because the virus can be spread through any sexual contact, regardless of sexual orientation.

Although many people's immune system will fight off the virus, she said, for some it can cause changes in the cells and cause cancer.

The number of students who received a first dose of the HPV vaccine fell from 80% in 2019, to just 53.6% in 2020, according to data from the Health Service Executive.

Just 37,014 of 69,111 First Year students were vaccinated last year.

The HPV vaccine is available free of charge to all First Year students through the Schools Immunisation Programme.

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Parents of First Year students are due to receive information packs this month about the HPV vaccine.

Students who miss the vaccination day in school can receive it elsewhere, but Ms Carter warned it is only free to those in First Year.

She also paid tribute to Laura Brennan, who campaigned for the uptake of the vaccine before her death from cervical cancer at the age of 26.