Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1060 - 1079)



  1060. No, no, I do not accept that. Let us pin it down. When were you asked as a Department to start the work on this national stockpile for smallpox vaccine?
  (Dr Troop) Can I in a separate—As I say, our planning is not new and therefore I would not want—

  Mr Jones: No, no.


  1061. Wait for the answer and then come back in.
  (Dr Troop) We have been reviewing aspects of our counter-measures for some time and therefore I think if you want me to give details of that I would rather give that in a separate written response.

Mr Jones

  1062. Can you give me a date when it was actually decided?
  (Dr Troop) I would rather send a note.

  1063. If you cannot, can you write to us about it?
  (Dr Troop) I would rather give you a response in writing to our review of our counter-measures.

  1064. An open response.
  (Dr Troop) No.

  Chairman: No, we will decide whether or not it is made public or kept private.

Mr Jones

  1065. I cannot see what is so difficult about the date when the decision was taken. If I can move on, about the tendering process in terms of acquiring the national stockpile which has created a lot of publicity recently and the decision to award a contract to PowderJect without going to tender. Why was it thought that we would do that in this country whereas in the United States there was an open tendering process?
  (Dr Troop) I cannot speak for the United States. The approach we have had all the time with our counter-measures, before and since 11 September, is to always indicate that we do have a range of medical counter-measures and that they are kept under review. The details of the volume and the place of those we have not indicated. It was considered that was information which would be of help to those who might wish to do us harm.

  1066. That is nonsense. You are insulting my intelligence here. The fact of the matter is that the MoD and Government agencies every day of the week place classified contracts with their suppliers. If you are saying that, and I do not accept frankly this is a national security issue, why not have tendered it anyway with those companies underlining that it was a classified tender?
  (Dr Troop) Can I say that what we did do was we did not go out in open tender but we approached a number of different companies in a way where we received very clear advice on a procurement approach. A number of different companies were approached in a standard way and in a way which we have had very clear advice has been in a proper manner to come out with a clear decision about where we should go. The process that we went through, once the decision was made—the decision about the openness on this is a wider one than us as professionals—having made that decision we then made sure that the process that we followed was a fair and proper process and one which then also gave value for money for the Department of Health.

  1067. It is value for money?
  (Dr Troop) Yes. We have had clear advice from our procurement, from our legal people and also we checked it up very carefully with our Permanent Secretary.

  1068. Is it not a fact that this vaccine has been provided by PowderJect? It has not been manufactured by them, it has been manufactured in Germany by a company called Bavarian Nordic. Would it not have been cheaper to have sourced it from the manufacturer?
  (Dr Troop) We approached the manufacturer directly. They were only prepared to work through their sole distributor in the UK.

  1069. PowderJect are acting as the middleman for the Government acquiring this vaccine?
  (Dr Troop) As I say, we approached a number of companies. Obviously having approached all these companies in very close confidence, the details of their contracts I think are therefore commercially confidential. What is true is, yes, it is Bavarian Nordic who are making the vaccine.

  1070. Therefore it would have been cheaper to go direct to them, would it not?
  (Dr Troop) As I explained, we did go directly to them and they would not work directly with us. They required us to go through their supplier.

  1071. Could we not find another company that we could have acquired it from directly?
  (Dr Troop) We went to five companies. There was only one source where we could get the vaccine that we wanted within the timescale that we wanted. That has been laid very clearly in front of the Permanent Secretary and many others to demonstrate that there was only one company which could meet the specification which we laid down in the timescale that we had.

  1072. Time is getting on. PowderJect are basically acting as middlemen, not producing it.
  (Dr Troop) They are not actually producing it, no.

  1073. Therefore the taxpayer is paying the middleman to get this stockpile?
  (Dr Troop) It is paying for vaccine against which, as I say, having checked it through with others in the Department, we consider to be value for money.

  1074. What is the price? What are PowderJect getting as the middleman? What are they making out of each vaccine?
  (Dr Troop) I do not know how much they are making. That would be their commercial confidence. We have a commercial contract, the details of which it would be completely inappropriate for us to put in the public domain.

  1075. I have it in front of me here if you want to know about it. It is a pound for each vaccine.
  (Dr Troop) As I say, the information we have is commercial confidential, I think it would be quite wrong for me to put that into the public domain.

  1076. Quickly moving on, I accept time is getting on. In terms of the vaccine which you have actually acquired, I understand there are only something like 20 million doses so if there was an outbreak some of our citizens are not going to be covered, are they?
  (Dr Troop) Again, we have not revealed the volume of the overall stockpile that we have for smallpox vaccine.

  1077. Why?
  (Dr Troop) For the same reasons I said before, we have not given out details from the Department of Health of the level and the range of all of our counter-measures. That was a decision that was taken early on. It is one that has been kept to throughout this process, this is not new. This has been the approach we have taken. As I say, we have been very open with a wide range of information from the Department. We have given lots of information on the website about all aspects of our planning. We have always made it very clear that we have a range of counter-measures and we keep these constantly under review and development. The NHS knows the range of counter-measures that it can get hold of, it knows how to get hold of them and therefore the information that is in the public domain is balanced between what you obviously said you did not accept, the issue of national security, with the openness of people.

  1078. What is the national security? The Americans clearly do not think there is one.
  (Dr Troop) As I say, this is a cross Government issue. As a public health official you are asking me to have a discussion about things which are, I think, wider issues than those of myself as a public health doctor and the head of this planning section.

  1079. Let me put a medical question to you then if you cannot answer the other questions. Would it be a good idea then for us to have a vaccine for every single person in Britain? Clearly people in some areas if there is a widespread outbreak are going to lose out, are they not? There is not a vaccine for everybody.
  (Dr Troop) I think there are different scenarios for which one would plan. If one goes to the WHO guidance on how to respond to a smallpox attack, that is not the basis of their guidance. If you look at the WHO guidance it is very much on an identify and contain. That approach to managing smallpox was endorsed at an international conference earlier this year. I think the WHO guidance, which is accepted worldwide, is terribly important in this context.

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