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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 16:08 GMT
Anthrax jab rejected by half troops
Anthrax
Troops are offered a vaccine to protect against anthrax
More than half of British service people heading to the Gulf have refused a voluntary Anthrax vaccination, the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

Defence spokesman Paul Keetch MP said that of the 16,538 service personnel offered the jabs only 8,103 accepted.

If the vaccine is safe and the threat real, why pass the buck to our troops to decide?

Paul Keetch
That was despite the fact the government believes Anthrax poses a "real threat to our armed forces", according to Defence Minister Lewis Moonie.

He said that there were "no reservations" over recommending the injection but it would still remain voluntary "in accordance with long-standing medical practice".

But that prompted Mr Keetch to accuse the government of failing to show leadership over the vaccines.

"By making immunisation voluntary, the Government has sown confusion among service personnel.

"Soldiers are being asked to judge for themselves the possibility of anthrax infection in the Gulf. If the vaccine is safe and the threat real, why pass the buck to our troops to decide?

"The government is exhibiting a real lack of leadership at a time when the public expects clarity about the risks, and indeed the necessity, of war."

'No waiver'

Mr Keetch's comments come just days after the government rejected suggestions troops were being asked to sign waivers to say they will not claim compensation if they become ill after having vaccinations.

There had been reports that soldiers preparing to go to the Gulf were being asked to sign the waiver when they were given jabs, including the anthrax vaccine.

The wife of an RAF solider from Bury St Edmunds, wrote to the Daily Telegraph to say her husband, who is about to leave for the Gulf, had been asked to sign a waiver when he was offered vaccinations.

She wrote: "He was told, if he wanted to have these jabs, he had to sign a disclaimer saying that, if he had illness in the future, he couldn't claim compensation."

The National Gulf Veterans and Families Association said earlier in the week that it had been contacted by a female member of 16 Air Assault Brigade who said she had been asked to sign a waiver.

It has also expressed concerns over the safety of the vaccine.

Shaun Ruisling, chairman of the association, said: "These are great concerns.

"It seems to be the case that soldiers are damned if they do have the vaccine and damned if they don't."

'Opposite'

But Mr Moonie told the BBC that soldiers were "categorically not" being asked to sign waivers.

"They are not being asked to sign.

"When someone refuses a vaccination, not when they take one, a record is kept - signed by the doctor and the person - to say they understand they have been offered the vaccination and they have refused to do it.

"So it's the exact opposite of what's being said."

Dr Moonie said the Ministry of Defence had very good public health reasons for wanting its troops to take all the vaccinations on offer, including anthrax.

He said they were told they should have the vaccines, but it was still voluntary.

He said it was safe and had been given for many years without any cases of serious side effects being noted.

However, he admitted that full immunisation took about six months, but there was some immediate protection from the jab.

See also:

08 Jan 03 | Health
18 Jul 02 | UK
02 Oct 01 | Health
27 Jul 00 | Health
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