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Armed Forces: Influenza

Volume 470: debated on Monday 7 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to ensure that sufficient quantities of (a) influenza vaccines, (b) anti-virals and (c) face-masks are held by armed forces operating in (i) Iraq, (ii) Afghanistan and (iii) elsewhere in the world for them to cope with a potential influenza pandemic; and if he will make a statement. (172797)

The best method to prevent infection with influenza is by prior immunisation with an appropriate vaccine. The Department of Health (DH) has purchased a quantity of the H5N1 Avian Flu vaccine, which could be offered to key occupational groups when the risk of a pandemic increases as it may give a degree of protection should the pandemic strain be a variant of H5N1. Supplies of this vaccine are being held by the DH on behalf of the MOD and in the event of an outbreak will be deployed by MOD in accordance with DH guidelines.

When an influenza virus is already circulating, therapeutic antiviral agents can help to lessen the severity of illness, reduce deaths and contain spread. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends that during an influenza pandemic, patients with a flu-like illness should be treated with zanamivir (“Relenza”) or oseltamivir (“Tamiflu”). The DH has arranged for an appropriate stockpile quantity of Tamiflu to be purchased, which is also being held centrally, and includes an allocation for MOD. For armed forces personnel employed at one of MOD’s Permanent Joint Overseas Bases (PJOBs), stockpiles of the Tamiflu antiviral have been pre-positioned within the PJOB logistics chain for rapid deployment if necessary. For those on operational deployment in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, supplies are held by Permanent Joint Headquarters, and will be deployed to theatre as required.

Supplies of face-masks are already held in-theatre and will be used with other appropriate preventative measures in the event of a pandemic outbreak of influenza.