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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
UK bought 'wrong' smallpox vaccine
Doctor with syringe
Smallpox is the most devastating infectious disease
The UK Government has bought the wrong vaccine to protect the country from the threat of a smallpox attack by terrorists, according to US experts.

A report by independent research body, the Potomac Institute, has raised doubts about whether the vaccine would be effective in the event of an attack.

Smallpox facts
Can transmit through air
Kills about 30% of those infected
No cure
First symptoms can be mistaken for flu
Officially eradicated in 1979 after global vaccination
First used as weapon by British against Native Americans in 18th century
The claims have raised new questions about the government's decision to award the contract for the supply of smallpox vaccine to a company run by a Labour donor.

Powderject Pharmaceuticals won the 32m contract just weeks after its chief executive Paul Drayson had given the Labour Party 50,000.

The government has ordered millions of doses of a smallpox vaccine based on what is known as the Lister strain of the disease to protect people in the UK in the event of a terrorist attack.

In the US, the Bush administration has bought a different vaccine developed by the New York City Board of Health to combat another type of smallpox which its scientists believe is more likely to be used by bio-terrorists.

There has to be openness and transparency in how these decisions are made

Dr Ian Gibson
Commons science and technology committee

That decision is reported to be backed up by the new study by the Potomac Institute. Its authors say the British government has got it wrong.

Their claims have been welcomed by the senior Labour backbencher Dr Ian Gibson.

He says it is not at all clear whether the vaccine bought by the government would be effective in the event of an attack.

But the Department of Health says it stands by its decision which was based on advice from a committee of scientific experts.

'Secrecy'

That advice remains unpublished, which has angered Dr Gibson, chairman of the Commons science and technology committee.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said the evidence should be made public.

He said: "We ought to be able to make our minds up and assess it, and be confident that we will have immunity conferred on us by the vaccine."

He added: "It's clouded in secrecy and it's very hard to find out.

"You can shelter behind that for some time, but at the end of the day, there has to be openness and transparency in how these decisions are made."

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said called for an inquiry and called on ministers to resign if they are found to be responsible.

"It is imperative that we have a full independent enquiry into the whole sordid affair of the smallpox scandal."

He added: "If these allegations are true heads must roll."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris said: "The fact that it was bought from a company owned by a Labour donor only strengthens the need for the government to be open and transparent about the decision, and the reasons for it."

"It is very worrying that the advice has been kept secret and that, unlike in America, there was no tendering process in this instance."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Kim Barnes reports
"The Department of Health stands by its decision"
Ian Gibson MP, Chairman Science Select Cttee
"Ironically a British company is making millions of shots for the Americans"
See also:

07 Jul 02 | Americas
08 May 02 | UK Politics
15 Apr 02 | UK Politics
13 Apr 02 | UK Politics
13 Apr 02 | UK Politics
12 Apr 02 | Health
30 Jul 02 | Health
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