Thousands of migrants passing through the Manston processing center will be vaccinated against diphtheria after dozens of cases of the highly contagious disease were confirmed in England, health officials said.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is working with the Home Office to get migrants vaccinated at the center after announcing on Friday it would be open until June 10.
The shelters warned by the UKHSA should be classified as “high risk of infectious diseases”.
The agency said the disease had in many cases been transmitted abroad and spread to the UK, and stressed the need for action to “minimise the risk of further transmission”.
Sky News has received public health documents showing growing concerns about the spread of disease in shelters housing asylum seekers.
The memo, sent by the UKHSA to the Home Office and Public Health Directors, says the risk to the general public is seen as very low.
It is raising the risk of diseases like diphtheria and scabies in processing centers and asylum seekers’ accommodation and says cases could put pressure on local health services.
“Many of the individuals passing through the Manston Immigration Center come from countries with disrupted health services, low vaccination rates and high prevalence of infectious diseases,” the note said.
“These individuals’ long journeys and use of shared facilities have increased the risk of infections and outbreaks.”
Overcrowding is blamed for the rise in cases
Information for staff at the shelter read: “We are seeing an increasing number of infections among people who have come to the UK to seek asylum.
“Reasons for this include accommodation sharing and overcrowding, long journeys and poor conditions during travel, low immunization coverage and higher rates of some infections around the world.”
Sky News understands there are concerns about possible outbreaks in Swindon, Sheffield, Kent, Birmingham, Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester.
Vaccinations and antibiotics recommended
dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, deputy director for public health programs at the UKHSA, confirmed work is underway with the Home Office to introduce vaccines and antibiotics in Manston.
“The UKHSA has worked closely with the Home Office at Manston Reception Centre, where there have been a number of cases of diphtheria and other infections,” he said.
“We recommend offering diphtheria vaccination and antibiotics to people in the center and anyone who has recently moved.
“This is currently being operationalized and we are working with the Home Office and the NHS to bring this about.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are aware of a very small number of cases of diphtheria that have been reported in Manston. Full medical guidelines and protocols were followed.
“We take both the well-being of the people in our care and our broader public health responsibilities very seriously. We will therefore continue to work closely with the NHS and the UK Health Security Agency to support those affected and limit transmission of the infection, including providing diphtheria vaccines.”
A deal for channel crossings?
Meanwhile, an agreement between Britain and France on Channel crossings is expected in the coming week.
A provisional total of arrivals for 2022 was 39,913 ahead of the weekend, but on Saturday more people arrived in the UK for the first time this month after a spell of bad weather.