Incidents of ‘oropharyngeal’ cancer, which can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), are dramatically rising amongst men and are among the fastest growing forms of cancer in the UK today. In spite of the alarming rising numbers, the Government has decided to maintain the current vaccination program against HPV that only sees girls, not boys.
The HPV vaccination program is a part of the national childhood immunization program, which aims to prevent children from developing “vaccine-preventable diseases.” While the program is delivered with the aim of reducing the incidence of cervical cancer, boys are left unvaccinated even though HPV can lead to ‘oropharyngeal’ cancer.
In response to the Government’s decision, lawyers have written to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of the State for Health, on behalf of the Throat Cancer Foundation. They are claiming that the present policy constitutes direct sex discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010 and is therefore unlawful.
The letter says that the “relevant” public service, the provision of HPV vaccinations, can benefit both boys and girls. It indicates that the only acceptable reason that the service is not available to boys, as well as girls, is an economic assessment that boys would receive less benefit than girls.
Since 2008, 12-13-year-old girls have been offered the free HPV vaccine. Vaccinating boys of the same group would have an estimated cost of additional £22 million, but the JVCI described in a statement issued last year that the decision to implement this is “not meeting the economic cost-effectiveness criteria for the introduction of a new vaccine.”
Rosa Curling, the lawyer representing the Throat Cancer Foundation, says that they have notified Jeremy Hunt of his obligations under the Equality Act. Curling describes it as “an act which requires every public body to treat people equally and renders unlawful a decision taken which directly discriminates on the grounds of gender, religion, sexual orientation or race.”
Unless the Secretary of the State for Health agrees to provide both genders HPV vaccination, their client will have to seek the court’s intervention in this matter, Curling says.
“HPV does not discriminate, and neither should our healthcare system. Someone has to call time on this inequitable and negligent policy. Enough is enough,” Jamie Rae, Founder of Throat Cancer Foundation, concluded.