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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Why won't government doctors give us the facts? 5/2/02

For national security reasons we haven't given out details of any of our medical countermeasures, and that's the same for many other countries.

It's not the same for the US. Today we have heard, very clearly from President Bush, there's this huge boost in his budget for measures to fight bioterrorism and a smallpox vaccine dose for every citizen.

Well, that's the choice of the Americans, but this Government and many other governments have decided that for national security reasons they don't want to disclose the level of medical countermeasures. We think it's information that other people who we don't want to have that information would find helpful.

Given the fact that smallpox can travel, how would we persuade other countries to pass on or pool their own vaccines?

First of all, we have been doing a lot of work with other countries. We have signed an agreement with the Americans about sharing our approach to these issues. There was a meeting with a number of other countries - a G7 plus Mexico - and they're coming over to London for a conference in March. There is now a health security committee in Europe which brings together all the European committees. All of this is where we are sharing a lot of information, sharing how we are planning and making sure that should anything happen we work in a very co-ordinated way.

With respect, you're not sharing information with the people who matter, which is the general public. You're not telling us how much vaccine you've actually got. Isn't it the case, since the BSE crisis, that the old nanny state approach of saying, "Don't worry, we've got it in hand" doesn't work any more?

I don't think this is nanny state. When we have talked to the public and questioned people about it, they haven't wanted to know how much vaccine they've got. They want to be sure that we have put effective plans in place. When we have explained that we have done, people are just happy to get on with their life.

Have you got one dose per person?

I told you, we're not going to tell you how much vaccine we have for security reasons. We do have effective plans. We have strategic stocks. We've obviously kept that under very, very close review since September 11th, and we will continue to keep things under review. I think in terms of our preparedness - because of our public health system, because of all the planning we've done - we are in as good a position as any other country to be able to cope with this problem.

The last case in this country, indeed the world, was in Birmingham in 1978. The woman concerned, who later died, was seen by three GPs who didn't diagnose smallpox. Would a GP now diagnose it?

I would hope so. We did send out very detailed guidance for doctors in October. It's all there on the public health service website with pictures. We are building up training programmes. It is important that we build into all the training programmes of doctors and other health professionals the first signs of any of the major bioterrorism diseases, and we will keep refreshing that training to make sure it stays up in their minds as a potential diagnosis should they see it. So I think we are working pretty hard to make sure that they could do so.

Dr Troop, thanks very much.

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