HC Deb 22 November 1977 vol 939 cc1302-4
13. Mr. Bryan Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many children have been given whooping cough vaccine in the current year; and how this figure compares with the previous three years.

Mr. Ennals

The number of children under the age of 16 who completed courses of vaccination against whooping cough in England during 1976, the latest year for which information is available, was nearly 240,000. The corresponding figures for the three previous years were: in 1973 about 550,000, in 1974 about 440,000 and in 1975 about 245,000. I shall circulate the precise figures in theOfficial Report.

Mr. Davies

I am grateful for that answer. Does my right hon. Friend share with me the concern that public confidence in the immunisation programme against whooping cough is at an all-time low? Does he further agree that he ought to put the highest priority on restoring that public confidence lest we face an epidemic of whooping cough this winter and in future winters?

Mr. Ennals

I gave to the House yesterday the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which is that whooping-cough vaccination should continue to be offered as part of the programme of routine immunisation of babies and infants. I consider that this advice is extremely important in view of the likelihood of a serious outbreak of the disease this winter. As my hon. Friend will know, the number of cases of whooping cough is rising significantly week by week.

Dr. Vaughan

Is it not a fact that there are now serious differences of opinion in the advice that the Secretary of State has been given by his two expert committees? Where does this lead to for parents? Is it not an urgent necessity for him to give clear advice and guidance to parents? Would it not be better to suspend the issue of this vaccine until he is quite sure about its safety?

Mr. Ennals

No. I have sought the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. which has made it clear that it does not believe that the vaccine should be withdrawn. It is perfectly clear that the risk which arises as a result of children not being vaccinated is very much greater than the undefined risk of their suffering some damage as the result of vaccination. I would be acting against the advice of my expert advisers were I to take the action proposed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision not to give further publicity to the need for vaccination is both correct and courageous in view of the advice of the Committee on Safety of Medicines to the effect that further assessment of the whooping cough vaccine is required but that it is a grave error of judgment to delay the campaign to vaccinate against other diseases such as diphtheria? Ought he not to initiate a campaign immediately?

Mr. Ennals

I have made it clear to the House and to the country that it is extremely important that parents should have their children vaccinated against poliomyelitis, diphtheria and tetanus. When I have the advice of the two committees, it is likely that I shall proceed with some sort of campaign early next year. I must, as my hon. Friend recognises, be bound by the advice that the experts give me.

Following are the figures:

1973 556,535
1974 439,385
1975 247,339
1976 239,295