Migrants at the UK's Manston processing centre are to be vaccinated against diphtheria after dozens of cases of the highly contagious disease were confirmed in England, health authorities have said.
Earlier this month, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said that just four cases had been identified at the site in Kent, but insisted those involved had arrived at Manston already infected.
He said reports of diphtheria, MRSA and scabies incidents at the centre had been “exaggerated”.
But the UK Health Security Agency said it is now moving with the Home Office to vaccinate migrants at the centre following a spike in infections.
The UKHSA revealed on Friday that 39 diphtheria cases had been identified in asylum seekers in England in 2022, as of November 10, saying accommodation settings should be considered “high-risk for infectious diseases”.
The government agency said in many cases the illness had been contracted abroad and carried to the UK, stressing the need for action to “minimise the risk of further transmission”.
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, the UKHSA’s deputy director of public health programmes, confirmed work is ongoing with the Home Office to roll out vaccines and antibiotics at Manston.
“The UKHSA has been working closely with the Home Office at the Manston reception centre where there have been a number of cases of diphtheria and other infections,” she said.
“We recommend that diphtheria vaccination and antibiotics are offered to people at the centre and all those who have moved on recently.
“This is currently being operationalised and we are working with the Home Office and the NHS to make this happen.”
In guidance for cases and outbreaks in asylum seeker accommodation settings, published on Friday, the UKHSA said its incident management team had recommended “mass antibiotic prophylaxis and mass vaccination”.
This was due to a “high prevalence” of toxigenic diphtheria infection in high volume reception settings where individual case and contact management is not possible, it said.
The treatment has been recommended for asylum seekers arriving at reception centres after October 31 and before December 12, including those who have already been dispatched to hotels, with young children and their families prioritised.
A national briefing has also been sent to NHS staff to “highlight the importance of early diagnosis and prompt treatment of suspected cases”.
“In light of the increase in cases of diphtheria and the challenges of contact tracing in asylum seeker accommodation settings, it is important additional measures are put in place to quickly identify suspected cases and minimise the risk of further transmission,” the guidance said.