Are there plans to vaccinate the UK population against smallpox

01:00 Mon 15th Apr 2002 |

asks admason:
No. Government ministers have ruled out reintroducing a mass vaccination.

Q. Why has the Government just ordered a big supply then
The Government has ordered 16 million doses of smallpox vaccine. Even though it has no immediate plans for vaccination, it does have detailed plans to deal with a biological attack of smallpox by terrorists.

Q. Would everyone be vaccinated in that case
No. The plans are to create a series of 'firewalls', where those with the disease would be treated, and everyone in contact with them would be inoculated to stop it spreading.

Q. Why the controversy over the order of smallpox vaccine
The �32 million contract for the vaccine was given to Powderject. The controversy came about because the company's chief executive Dr Paul Drayson donated �50,000 to Labour nine months ago.

Q. Jobs for the boys
Apparently not. It seems that Powderject was chosen on military and security advice. PowderJect can supply the Lister strain of the smallpox vaccine fairly quickly. The Lister strain is also being developed for military use at the Ministry of Defence laboratory in Porton Down, Wiltshire. Ministers were advised that it would be best to use the same strains for military and civilian purposes.

Q. Doesn't anyone else supply that strain
It would have taken rival company Acambis - which is to provide 92 million doses of the New York City strain of the vaccine - two years to test and produce the doses of Lister vaccine. Powderject can start production straight away.

Q. Is one version better than the other
Colin Kaplan, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Reading University, said that there was little to choose between the Lister and New York strains, but he endorsed the Government's choice by agreeing that it was a sensible decision to synchronise military and civilian policy.

Q. How real is the threat of smallpox
Professor Kaplan said he believed that the greatest threat was from bio-terrorism. We went on to say that smallpox is destructive and easier to spread around than anthrax.

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