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Lawyers threaten legal action over decision not to immunise boys against HPV

Lawyers acting for a leading cancer charity have written to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation over alleged inequality in vaccinating against the human papillomavirus (HPV).

11 February 2018

Lawyers from Leigh Day, who are representing the Throat Cancer Foundation, have written to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises UK health departments on immunisation, threatening legal action after the government body decided to maintain the current vaccination programme that sees teenage girls vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV virus) and not boys.

The charity argues that whilst girls have been vaccinated against HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer, boys are left unvaccinated despite the fact that HPV can lead to 'oropharyngeal' cancers affecting the mouth, tongue and throat.

Incidents of these cancers are rising dramatically amongst men and are currently among the fastest growing forms of cancer in the UK.

Girls aged 12-13 have been offered the free HPV vaccine since 2008. It is estimated that vaccinating boys in the same age group would cost an additional £22 million but a decision to implement this was described by the JVCI in a statement issued last year as 'not meeting the economic cost-effectiveness criteria for the introduction of a new vaccine.'

This week, Public Health England announced plans to offer the HPV vaccine to the MSM community (men who have sex with men) up to 45 years of age.

Jamie Rae, a throat cancer survivor and founder of the Throat Cancer Foundation, welcomed the decision to offer the HPV vaccine to the MSM community, but claimed the latest move could be likened to locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

He said: "The MSM community currently has no protection from HPV, and to be offered a vaccine later in life is not equal to the protection offered to females who are typically immunised in their first year of high school. Pre-sexual debut vaccination is irrefutably best practice.

"Throat cancer caused by HPV is a ticking time-bomb. The rates are going up and up, but this terrible disease is avoidable. It could be easily prevented if both boys and girls were given the HPV vaccine at a young age.

"Not offering the vaccine to young boys directly discriminates against them and is putting their health at risk. We have been campaigning for the last five years to change this and we are willing to consider every option, if necessary, including legal action.

"With every year that passes, 400,000 more boys are left at risk of HPV-related diseases. It's time for the authorities to do the right thing and protect our boys."

Rosa Curling, the lawyer representing the Throat Cancer Foundation, said: "We have notified the JVCI of their responsibilities under the Equality Act, an act which requires every public body to treat people equally and renders unlawful a decision taken which directly discriminates between, for example, girls and boys.

"A recommendation by JVCI to deny boys the HPV vaccination we believe would be discriminatory and therefore unlawful. Unless the committee and the Secretary of State for Health agree to provide boys, as well as girls, with the HPV vaccination, our client will have no option but to seek the court's intervention in this matter."

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