HC Deb 27 January 1969 vol 776 cc933-6
33. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether adequate supplies of flu vaccine are now available; and if he will make a statement.

46. Mr. Moonman

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a further statement on the manufacture and distribution of the A2 influenza vaccine.

Mr. Ennals

1,070,000 doses of Hong Kong influenza vaccine have now been distributed. Supply is still not meeting demand but increasing quantities are going to retail chemists to meet doctors' prescriptions.

Mr. Taylor

While I fully appreciate that the epidemic has not really occurred, may I ask the hon. Gentleman at least to say what steps he is taking to make sure that those with responsibility for maintaining essential services are given the vaccine? Is he aware that some general practitioners still cannot get a supply?

Mr. Ennals

The Government are not responsible for either manufacturing or distributing vaccine, and I do not expect that the hon. Member would propose that we should be. Recognising, however, that there would be a demand and that there might be a shortage, we took the advice of our experts and decided that there should be certain priorities who should, if possible, have the vaccine first. This advice was made known and I had discussions with the manufacturers and distributors. They gave their ready cooperation in seeing that bulk supplies went mainly to hospitals and local authorities, and much more of the sup-lies have now gone to retail chemists to meet doctors' prescriptions. But the supply is, of course, still not meeting all demands.

Mr. Moonman

I hope that there will not be undue optimism because of a few days of mild weather. In the criteria that my hon. Friend wants to establish, will the bronchitic and asthmatic have first claim? If so, how does this square up with the fact that members of the staff of the House of Commons got their "jabs" this morning but, apparently, not one Member of Parliament?

Mr. Ennals

The priorities that were suggested by the Joint Committee still apply. This is the first information I have had about jabs being given this morning. Mr. Speaker, and not the Government, is responsible for the administration of the House of Commons. I will make inquiry about the point raised by the hon. Member.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, may I ask whether he is aware that most of the hospitals that I have contacted, both in London and in the North of England, do not have supplies even for their very ill patients? Were any financial commitments required from hospitals before vaccine was delivered to them? Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the whole distribution has not been very effectively or efficiently done?

Mr. Ennals

As to the question of payment, there is no difference from any other system of ordering prescriptions and drug supplies. I certainly do not accept the point made by the hon. Lady. I do not know when she made her inquiries—

Dame Irene Ward

Last week.

Mr. Ennals

—or at what hospitals, but my inquiries have led me to the impression that almost all hospitals have now received their requirements. There is still insufficient to meet some prescriptions by doctors, but in the matter of distribution my impression is that although we have, of course, no means of insisting how a doctor prescribes—it would be quite wrong for us to do so—the vast proportion, I would say 95 per cent. of that which has become available, has gone to the priority groups.

Mr. John Hynd

As we understand that this vaccine is a preventive measure, can my hon. Friend tell us on what basis it is being distributed? He has referred to doctors' prescriptions. Does that mean that only those who are attending doctors for other illnesses are getting injections, or are block injections being given, as was referred to a moment ago?

Mr. Ennals

I have occasionally heard reports of block injections. Most of my inquiries have shown that the vaccine was either the pre-Hong Kong variety or was ordered in October before the Government's intervention to bring about the voluntary distribution system. The supplies which are now available are, of course, to meet doctors' prescriptions and are available through the chemists.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Could the hon. Gentleman restore the balance a little and inform us about ordinary 'flu? Am I right in assuming that the relationship of that vaccine to Hong Kong 'flu is the same as the relationship of the previous vaccine to ordinary influenza and that it is still possible for people to get a non-Hong Kong virus, with which the vaccine has no effect, and that it is just as dangerous for bronchitic and asthmatic patients?

Mr. Ennals

I would not say that it necessarily had no effect. It is too early to say. Certainly, it is a vaccine which is designed to deal with this particular type of virus. As has been recognised and said in the House, the incidence so far has been very mild and some of the scaremongering statements that were made have so far proved to be absolutely untrue. We cannot be certain. It is interesting to note that new sickness benefit claims last week showed a reduction compared with 12 months ago.