Troops face vaccine order

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DEFENCE officials yesterday refused to rule out compulsory vaccination of British servicemen. Nearly three-quarters of personnel sent to the Middle East in February refused anthrax jabs because of fears over Gulf War Syndrome.

The Ministry of Defence "strongly recommended" the injections to 3,500 personnel deployed to the Gulf amid growing tension over Saddam Hussein's weapons programme earlier this year.

But despite also receiving a personal letter from George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence - who took the vaccine in an attempt to calm fears about its side-effects - 73 per cent refused.

Yesterday, the MoD said it was considering whether to join the United States and other allied countries in making the jabs mandatory. "We are keeping this whole area under review. We would not rule out compulsory vaccination in the future," a spokesman said.

A cocktail of anti-biological and chemical warfare vaccines given to troops during the 1991 Gulf War has been blamed for causing outbreaks of mystery illness among veterans. The anthrax vaccine - offered separately to soldiers and sailors this time around - formed part of that cocktail.

In an attempt to encourage take-up, Mr Robertson, the armed forces minister Dr John Reid, and Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie all had the vaccinations.

But yesterday the MoD admitted that just 28 per cent of total service personnel followed suit, comprising 54 per cent of land forces and 17 per cent of those at sea. A spokesman said the vaccines had been offered in addition to protection offered by contamination-proof areas of ships and anti-nuclear, chemical biological warfare suits.

"The vaccines were not compulsory but the recommendation was that they should be taken. They were intended to discharge our duty of care, but it was for the individual to make that decision," said the spokesman.

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