HC Deb 24 February 1999 vol 326 cc355-6W
Mr. Maclean

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment his Department has made of the claims that SV40 virus is linked to Mesothelioma; and what estimates his Department has made of the future number of Mesothelioma sufferers. [72710]

Ms Jowell

This matter has been carefully considered by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the Government's independent expert advisory committee. Concern about the possible impact of Simian Virus 40 on the human population was raised in the early 1960s. SV40 was found in some inactivated polio vaccines produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Since the discovery of SV40 in 1960 it has been stipulated that all viruses in addition to poliovirus in inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), should be inactivated. When live oral polio vaccine (OPV) became available in 1962, it also had to be free of all known viruses (other than the three polio viruses the vaccine protects against). All the relevant samples of OPV in the UK repository, going back to 1966, have been checked by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control and no infectious SV40 virus was detected. Currently used vaccines are rigorously checked to ensure their safety and efficacy and are free of SV40.

Although SV40 has been isolated from some human tumours, there is no evidence that SV40 virus is causing the tumours. Research studies in people who received SV40 contaminated IPV have found no increase in cancers when compared with people who did not receive contaminated IPV. The JCVI agreed with the conclusions of these studies.

Professor Julian Peto and colleagues have recently completed epidemiological research which was published in the British Journal of Cancer this year. They estimated that the number of men dying from mesothelioma in Western Europe will almost double over the next 20 years from 5,000 in 1998 to about 9,000 in 2018. For Britain, the predicted annual deaths from mesothelioma in years 2015–19 is 1,750, almost twice the current rate. This is around 6 per cent. of the current 30,000 lung cancer deaths annually. Mesothelioma rates are a quantitative indicator of the population's past exposure—mainly occupational—to asbestos.

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