HC Deb 13 June 2002 vol 386 cc1345-6W
Mr. Levitt

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to offer immunisation against anthrax to the armed forces. [62523]

Geoffrey Hoon

Following the delay to the voluntary immunisation programme against anthrax that was caused by difficulties at the Centre for Applied Microbiological Research, which was supplying the vaccine, the programme was re-launched for personnel deployed to the Gulf in May 2001. But continuing uncertainty over the licensing of future supplies meant that it was not extended further to other members of the Armed Forces.

The problems over the licensing of future supplies have now been resolved and the Ministry of Defence took delivery of the rest of the supplies that are required at the end of March this year. We are confident that there will be no difficulties with the future, large-scale production of the vaccine.

It takes six months for immunisation against anthrax to become fully effective. But we may not have nearly so much warning of a change in the threat, nor of the requirement for British Armed Forces to deploy to a high threat area. Given that we cannot expect to predict exactly where or when a threat might arise, or which units of the Armed Forces might be called upon to respond. We have decided to expand the immunisation programme so that all Service personnel, including reserves, and those essential civilians who are likely to deploy on operations, are routinely offered immunisation against anthrax. We plan to expand the programme gradually over the next few years, beginning with those units that are held at the highest readiness.

Immunisation against anthrax is safe and effective. As before, and in keeping with long-standing medical practice, it will be offered to personnel on the basis of voluntary informed consent. By accepting it alongside their other defensive measures, this will ensure that they have the very best protection against anthrax used as a biological weapon.