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Human rights lawyers welcome report from advisory committee that HPV vaccine should be offered to boys

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended making the HPV jab gender neutral

Posted on 18 July 2018

The lawyer acting for the Throat Cancer Foundation has welcomed the decision by the The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to provide a gender neutral national vaccination programme to protect against the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV).
In May this year lawyers from Leigh Day wrote to the Secretary of State for Health, on behalf of the Throat Cancer Foundation, over the Government’s decision to maintain a vaccination programme against the HPV virus only for teenage girls and not boys.
The letter before claim was the first stage in a planned legal challenge against the Government’s decision which lawyers claimed constituted direct discrimination on the grounds of sex contrary to the Equality Act 2010 and was therefore unlawful. 
Today’s decision means that The HPV vaccination, which is routinely offered to girls aged 12 to 13 at secondary school,  will now be extended to boys of the same age.
The JCVI said: "If considering a cost-effectiveness analysis where a combined girls' and boys' programme is compared to no vaccination, gender-neutral HPV vaccination is highly likely to be cost-effective."
Jamie Rae, founder of both Throat Cancer Foundation and HPV Action - a collaboration of 50 national healthcare charities and sexual health bodies that have steadfastly lobbied for equality in HPV vaccination - and himself a throat cancer survivor, is pleased the JCVI has recognised the importance of gender neutral vaccination giving parity to protect boys against HPV, but would like to see the Government go further and implement the vaccination programme at an earlier age than the current 12-13 years old threshold for girls.
Mr Rae said: "Research and findings by some of the most eminent medical healthcare professionals who advise the Throat Cancer Foundation have stated that for the vaccine to be most effective it should be administered to both boys and girls at 10 or 11 years of age, before they get to High School - a point raised by the British Medical Association at a recent conference. 
“There is broad agreement that this will offer children protection from cervical, throat, anal and penile cancers, as well as genital warts, in later life.
"Now that the JCVI has had its say, we hope Public Health England recommends a national vaccination programme and that it is implemented as soon as it is feasibly possible."
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "The HPV vaccine has proven extremely effective in protecting women against cervical cancer and we now have strong evidence to demonstrate that the vaccine also provides protection against a number of other serious cancers which affect both men and women, including head and neck cancer and anal cancer.
"It has been frustrating that this effective vaccine has, until now, only been available on the NHS to girls but not boys. We hope parents will take up this important opportunity to get their sons and daughters vaccinated as soon as it is available to them."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "The Government takes advice from an independent expert committee - the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) - when making decisions on vaccination programmes.
"We are carefully considering their advice and will update on a decision shortly."
Rosa Curling of Leigh Day said:
"Our clients are delighted with the decision taken by the Committee last month and published today. Earlier this month, we wrote to the Chair and the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Throat Cancer Foundation, to make clear that the Committee would be acting unlawfully if they continued to advise the Secretary of State to implement an scheme for HPV vaccination which did not deliver equal benefits for men and women. We informed the Committee that the Throat Cancer Foundation would commence judicial review proceedings unless it advised the Secretary of State to treat men and women equally. 
"This new recommendation, if accepted by the Secretary of State, will end the long standing and unlawful practice of providing this service to girls but refusing to provide it to boys, even though it had the capacity to benefit both boys and girls.  Although the Committee has not accepted that it is bound by the terms of the Equality Act, we are pleased that it is recommending that the NHS provides equal services.  This shows how important the equalities duties are in practice.
"The Throat Cancer Foundation hope very much the Secretary of State will now agree that the vaccination should be provided to both boys and girls without further delay.  That commitment, and only that commitment, will ensure that the present unequal and unlawful provision of NHS services will not be challenged in the courts"
David Lock QC and Hannah Gibbs of Landmark Chambers were instructed by Leigh Day on this case.