Image copyright Reuters Image caption The vaccine stops the hepatitis C virus spreading through the body
Immunity boosters given to people for more than 30 years to protect them against cancer are immoral and unfair, says the director-general of the World Health Organization.
The so-called extended-release boosters replace the older, much cheaper injectable drugs.
Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele said the changes to life expectancy meant patients should receive the alternative.
But he also warned of the need to keep developing vaccines, by which people are also protected from more serious diseases.
An overdose of life
The WHO boss was speaking after delegates meeting in Geneva this week ratified amendments to its drug guidelines.
They replace the traditional prescription with a series of shots containing a vaccine to “mitigate the side effects of cancer”, the body said in a statement.
The older drugs containing LAV are easier to use, and can be used by patients who fail to respond to the injection.
In recent years a number of countries including Nigeria, Lebanon and Azerbaijan have taken this route.
Professor Okwo-Bele said the goal was to persuade more countries to do the same, and also encourage more people to manage their diseases with LAV injections.
But he said the practice was “immoral” and condemned it as “socially unjust”.
It was important to consider the “cycle of life” to prevent patients from ending up in poorer health with the opposite disease from the one they were treated for, he said.
“It’s morally quite distasteful because it’s affecting people who are in a state of survival – suddenly they are in a state of death,” he told the BBC World Service’s Media Show programme.
“And of course it’s unfair because they have had longer to manage their disease than other people.”
But Professor Moluedine Brigali, of University College London, said immunising people with LAV is “ideal”.
“You are putting as many people as possible into the treatment pool for cancer,” he told the programme.
Because people have for years lived with an illness of the liver and the side effects of that treatment, they are predisposed to cancer.
“So by immunising them, they will reduce the risks of survival for cancer. And on the other hand they are reducing the effects of their current treatment.”
Dr Colin Reed, a London-based authority on cancer, said immunisation was unethical – but also “fiscally justifiable”.
He told the BBC “tens of millions” of people receive these LAV drugs around the world, and there was a growing recognition that good healthcare needs to be mainstreamed into human life.
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