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Armed Forces: Influenza

Volume 477: debated on Friday 20 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Westbury, (Dr. Murrison) of 1 April 2008, Official Report, column 768W, on armed forces: influenza, what quantity of (a) vaccines and (b) antivirals are held by his Department for use by the armed forces for the treatment of seasonal influenza; where these stocks are held; and if he will make a statement. (208973)

The Defence Medical Services operate in accordance with the guidance issued by the Dept of Health and the Health Protection Agency (which issues annual advice on the prescription of antivirals). For the treatment of seasonal influenza, Defence Medical Services obtain vaccines and antivirals as required, through the UK Departments of Health (DH). Stocks will be held locally at unit medical centres and other medical facilities, and quantities will vary according to clinical requirement and day-to-day usage. Vaccinations and antivirals are prescribed for individuals by medical staff according to clinical need, following national guidance issued by the DH.

It would not be practical to “stockpile” vaccines against seasonal influenza, since antigenic drifts (minor changes) of influenza viruses lead to the emergence of new viral strains every year. These minor changes cause seasonal influenza and explain why reformulation of the influenza vaccine is required every year.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Westbury, (Dr. Murrison) of 3 April 2008, Official Report, columns 127-8W, on the armed forces: influenza, how many antiviral courses are available to the armed forces to meet future operational demands; how many antiviral courses are held (a) in the UK and (b) overseas; in which countries the antiviral courses are held overseas; how many antiviral courses are held in each country; whether these antivirals are available for use by armed forces in the event of (i) seasonal and (ii) pandemic influenza; and if he will make a statement; (208983)

(2) pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Westbury, (Dr. Murrison) of 3 April 2008, Official Report, columns 1207-8W, on the armed forces: influenza, what total quantity of antiviral courses is held in (a) Iraq and (b) Afghanistan for use by the armed forces; what proportion of the total number of antiviral courses held in (i) Iraq and (ii) Afghanistan is allocated for the treatment of (A) pandemic influenza and (B) seasonal influenza; how many antivirals are held in other countries; in which countries they are held; and if he will make a statement;

(3) pursuant to the answer of 3 April 2008, Official Report, column 1208W, on armed forces: influenza, to which overseas bases the antiviral courses were distributed.

Around 17,500 courses of pandemic influenza antivirals earmarked for future operational demands are held in the UK by the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency (DSDA) on behalf of the Defence Equipment and Support organisation. PJHQ will authorise distribution of the appropriate quantities to operational theatres as required.

In accordance with Defence Medical Services guidance, 10 antiviral courses have been pre-positioned in medical facilities overseas; five courses in the Role 2 (Enhanced) field hospital unit at Basra in Iraq and five in the one at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

A further 18,000 antiviral courses for use in the event of an outbreak of pandemic influenza have been distributed to overseas locations where MOD personnel and their dependents are based. The quantities have been calculated in accordance with Department of Health guidance, and stockholdings are kept under regular review.

For seasonal influenza, guidance is that only “at risk” patients will be treated, and antivirals will be obtained through the normal supply chain in accordance with clinical requirement. Pre-deployment medical standards mean that such individuals would not be allowed to deploy on operations.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the Answer to the hon. Member for Westbury, (Dr. Murrison) of 7 January 2008, Official Report, column 24W, on the armed forces: influenza, what assessment he has made of the speed at which the stockpile of antivirals held at Permanent Joint Headquarters may be deployed to theatre in the event of an influenza pandemic; how many face masks are held in (a) Afghanistan, (b) Iraq and (c) other theatres; what other appropriate preventative measures he is considering; and if he will make a statement. (208984)

As stated in my answer to the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) of 3 April 2008, Official Report, column 1207W, around 17,500 courses of influenza antivirals earmarked for future operational demands are held in the UK by the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency (DSDA) on behalf of the Defence Equipment and Support organisation. PJHQ will authorise distribution of the appropriate quantities to operational theatres as required. As with any logistic supplies, if the requirement is urgent antivirals can be deployed rapidly to theatre in accordance with well-established procedures.

Face masks are a standard item of clinical equipment, and have a wide range of medical uses. Stocks sufficient for all requirements are held in field hospitals and other medical units in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Precise holdings will fluctuate on a daily basis, being replenished through the standard logistics chain as required.

Specific guidance on infection control in the event of an outbreak of pandemic influenza has been promulgated to all Defence Medical Services personnel and military commanders. This covers all appropriate medical procedures including hygiene, patient placement, and waste disposal, and includes specialised guidance on procedures in operational settings.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the Answer to the hon. Member for Westbury, (Dr. Murrison) of 3 April, Official Report, column 1207-08W, on armed forces; influenza, whether the stockpile of A/H5N1 vaccines for use by the armed forces in the event of an influenza pandemic is held in the UK. (208985)

The A/H5N1 vaccine stockpile is held in the UK by the Department of Health, which includes a ring-fenced allocation held on behalf of the MOD, and in the event of an outbreak will be deployed by MOD in accordance with DH guidelines and MOD need.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the Answer to the hon. Member for Westbury, (Dr. Murrison) of 1 April 2008, Official Report, column 786W, on armed forces: influenza, for which categories of armed forces personnel plans have been drawn up for the prophylactic use of antivirals; and if he will make a statement. (209293)

In the event of a threatened influenza pandemic, antivirals for prophylactic purposes may be prescribed for certain categories of key workers (such as military medical staff) in accordance with guidance issued by the UK Department of Health and MOD’s Surgeon General. Their use will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature and location of the outbreak.