HPV Vaccine inventor Ian Frazer Backs UK’s “Jabs for the Boys” Lobbyist Group – Conflict of Interest?
After Peter Doshi’s recent exposé article in the British Medical Journal on how government agencies and vaccine manufacturers use grass roots organizations to push their vaccine agenda, I took a closer look at an upcoming decision about to be made in the UK by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization on whether boys should be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine. A decision is expected next week after the same Committee voted against such an extension to the program in July. Currently the vaccine is given in schools to all 12 year old girls with a high uptake rate of 90%. It is also offered free in certain clinics to men who have sex with men under a special National Health Service pilot program.
Lobbyist group HPVAction.org has been the most vocal in recent years, using its 48-member strong network to push the government to adopt a “gender-neutral” policy for this vaccine by making it available to all boys. A statement from the group recently, outlined the many reasons that the JCVI should add boys to the schedule in a comprehensive policy statement, submitted to the department of health ahead of next week’s decision. They argue, with a slightly threatening undertone, that the current policy “may be in breach” of sexual equality laws.
According to the website “whois”, the person behind HPVAction is Jamie Rae, a Scottish businessman and philanthropist. Rae has a long history in Scottish politics as a former member of the Scottish National Party. Rae was convicted of fraud in the late 90s and served 15 months in prison on various charges relating to mortgage and benefits fraud. After serving his time, Rae turned his luck around and started up many successful businesses. After developing and overcoming throat cancer in 2010, Rae set up the Throat Cancer Foundation in 2012, to raise awareness for this rare condition and to campaign for the inclusion of males in the HPV vaccination program.
The Throat Cancer Foundation (TCF) is a charity but also acts as a lobbying group and by extension, supports the position of HPVAction as owner of the site and also as TCF is a member. The story begins to get more complicated when two of TCF’s advisory board members have direct conflicts of interest with the vaccine – Co-inventor of the HPV vaccine Ian Frazer, and MERCK/GSK consultant and JCVI advisor Dr. Margaret Stanley, OBE.
Ian Frazer, a Scottish virologist now an Australian citizen, along with co-inventor, the late Jian Zhou and others, owns rights to the sale of both HPV vaccines in Australia and New Zealand. They also own exclusive rights over the vaccine technology used by Merck and GSK. Expanding the vaccine program to boys would bolster the credibility of his own country’s program and promote this “gender neutral” policy worldwide as so few countries have adopted such an expensive public health measure thus far. In the US, uptake among boys is hovering around 20%. Improving uptake in boys will also offset the dramatic reduction in sales as a result of reducing the dose from three to two in recent years.
Professor Margaret Stanley, OBE is a British virologist at the University of Cambridge who has been intimately involved in the development of both vaccines with Merck and GSK and served on the special HPV advisory group to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which recommended that the vaccine program go ahead for girls in 2008. Dr. Stanley has a vested interest in ensuring that boys are included in the program, one which she has invested her entire career in propagating, both with the WHO, the IARC and various other institutions around the world. She has benefited financially from her relationship with both manufacturers as a consultant and as a speaker on behalf of the vaccines.
The Throat Cancer Foundation states in its policy on ethics that it be transparent in its dealings with partners and sponsors, both public and private, “ensuring that the Throat Cancer Foundation remains independent and autonomous so that there can be no influence – either actual or perceived…” So how does the TCF ensure that their charity is independent and autonomous when two of the HPV vaccine’s heaviest hitters are on its advisory board? At what point is the TCF working for Frazer and Stanley to further their interests?
Rae himself has another company, Nugensis, which has accepted business solution contracts from the NHS and was embroiled in an accusation of cronyism from government ministers in 2015, after Rae made donations to the Scottish National Party before the million pound contract was awarded. The SNP denied all charges of cronyism and no action was taken.
It is difficult to say if the JCVI will be sufficiently influenced by HPVAction.org and by extension the Throat Cancer Foundation, backed by direct profiteers of the vaccine and key stakeholders with influence on policy. However, what is clear is that the public is unaware that such an influence – either actual or perceived - exists. It is this semi-transparency which results in public loss of confidence once such conflicts are revealed, causing more damage to the vaccine program.
Eileen Iorio is co-author of the upcoming book, “The HPV Vaccine On Trial, Weighing The Evidence” published by Skyhorse Publishing.