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Gulf War Illnesses

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A central principle of the Government's approach to addressing the health concerns of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict is that there should be appropriate research into veterans’ illnesses and factors that may have a bearing on these.

As a key part of that research, the Ministry of Defence has sponsored a vaccines interactions research programme into the possible adverse health effects of the combination of vaccines and tablets given to troops to protect them against the threat of biological and chemical warfare. The programme, which has been overseen by an independent panel of experts and veterans representatives, consisted of three main studies. The first examined the interaction of certain vaccines in mice and reported last year on 21 July 2005 (Official Report, House of Commons, 117WS).

The second, and main, study has been undertaken at Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (Dstl) Porton Down and involved monitoring marmosets for up to 18 months following the administration of vaccines and/or pyridostigmine bromide (the active ingredient in nerve agent pre-treatment tablets). Partial results from the study, covering cognition, muscle function, general health and sleep, were announced on 20 July 2006 (Official Report, House of Commons, 37 WS). Papers reporting the remaining final results on the immunological aspects of the study have now been published online in the journal International Immunopharmacology and can be found at The papers report that the immune system had not been compromised by any of the treatments and that there was no evidence of adverse health effects due to the administration of vaccines and/or pyridostigmine bromide. The study findings have been independently endorsed. Donald Davies, Emeritus Professor in Toxicology at Imperial College, London, who chaired the independent group which oversaw the study, has commented that the study was well designed and conducted. Together with the expert immunologists from the panel, he supports the conclusion that the animals suffered no adverse health effect, despite exposure to exaggerated doses of vaccines.

The final study examined whether staff from Dstl Porton Down who received multiple vaccinations during their employment have higher levels of sick leave than their unvaccinated colleagues. The findings, which are being made available today on the MoD website, show that staff at Porton Down who had received multiple vaccinations suffered no excess sick absence.

The overwhelming evidence from the programme is that the combination of vaccines and tablets that were offered to UK forces at the time of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict would not have had adverse health effects. This has been a key area of concern among Gulf veterans and the results of the research should be reassuring to those veterans who have been concerned about the safety of the medical countermeasures that they were given. I hope, too, that it will reinforce confidence in the countermeasures that are offered today and in the future.