HC Deb 25 May 1976 vol 912 cc109-11W
60. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make available the substance of the discussions officials of his Department recently had with United States Government health officials concerning the discovery of an influenza virus in the United States of America similar to that which caused the epidemic in 1919.

Dr. Owen

As I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) on 17th May—[Vol. 911, c. 423–4]—officers of my Department received detailed information about the outbreak of "swine" influenza from the United States Government and from the United States Department of the Army in particular. Many discussions have taken place between experts internationally about this outbreak. Much information has been published and the World Health Organisation has circulated advice in the Weekly Epidemiological Record No. 16 issued on 15th April 1976, a copy of which is in the Library. I do not think it would be helpful to publish separately the substance of individual discussions by officers of my Department.

As far as the general position in this country is concerned, I am now able to make a further statement to the one I gave to hon. Members on 6th April.—[Vol. 909, c. 147–49.]

I have received the following advice from the Advisory Group on Vaccination against Influenza, which met on 20th May: The Advisory Group on Influenza has again reviewed A/New Jersey (`swine') influenza, in the light of all available information from the USA and other countries. There has been no evidence of further spread of swine influenza in the USA, nor is there any evidence that it has appeared in any other country. The Group concluded that the extent of prevalence of swine influenza in man in the future was difficult to predict but reaffirmed its previous advice that there was no indication at present for mass immunisation in the UK in preparation for the coming winter. The Group endorsed its previous recommentations that a 'swine' influenza virus component should be incorporated in inactivated influenza vaccine for the coming season. This vaccine would be used for the categories of persons at special risk as defined in the Chief Medical Officer's letter of 20th November 1975. (CMO 30/75). The Group considered the report to the Director-General, World Health Organisation, of the meeting in Geneva in April on 'swine' influenza and accepted the advice that surveillance at a national level should be extended to detect any spread of the A/New Jersey virus to the human and swine population in the United Kingdom. In accord with the WHO recommendations the Advisory Group also recommended establishing a reserve of monovalent swine influenza vaccine for persons engaged in the maintenance of essential services for use in the event of indications of a serious epidemic. The Group agreed to maintain a close watch on developments in other countries with particular reference to any tendency to unusual virulence in any influenza epidemics which may occur. As recommended by the WHO the Group agreed that there was need to secure a supply of relevant antibiotics for treatment of bacterial pneumonia which can arise as a complication of influenza".

I have accepted this advice and in the light of it arrangements are being made immediately, for this winter, to establish a reserve which I am initially setting at 1 million doses of vaccine. This will be additional to the 1 million doses mentioned in my statement of 6th April. I am also taking steps to ensure the supply of antibiotics as recommended by the advisory group. My Department will be discussing with those responsible for essential services their requirements for vaccine.

The advisory group has arranged to meet again if there is any significant change in the position.