Thousands to be vaccinated at Manston migrant centre after spike in highly contagious disease

Thousands of migrants passing through the Manston processing centre will be vaccinated against diphtheria after dozens of cases of the highly contagious disease were confirmed in England, health authorities have said.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is moving with the Home Office to vaccinate migrants at the centre after it revealed on Friday that 39 diphtheria cases had been identified in asylum seekers in England in 2022 as of 10 November.

The UKHSA warned accommodation settings should be considered "high-risk for infectious diseases".

The agency said in many cases the illness had been contracted abroad and carried to the UK and it stressed the need for action to "minimise the risk of further transmission".

Sky News has obtained public health documents showing growing concern over the spread of disease in accommodation used to house asylum seekers.

The memo, sent by the UKHSA to the Home Office and public health directors, says the risk to the general public is considered very low.

It raises the risk of diseases such as diphtheria and scabies in processing centres and asylum seeker accommodation and says cases could put pressure on local health services.

"Many of the individuals passing through Manston Immigration Centre come from countries with disrupted health services, low vaccination rates and a high prevalence of infectious diseases," the note says.

"The prolonged journeys these individuals have undergone and the use of shared facilities, has increased the risk of infections and outbreaks."

Overcrowding in blamed for rise in cases

Information for accommodation staff said: "We are seeing an increasing number of infections in people who have come to the UK to seek asylum.

"The reasons for this include sharing accommodation facilities and overcrowding, long journeys and poor conditions while travelling, low vaccination coverage, and higher rates of some infections around the world."

Sky News understands there are concerns about potential outbreaks in Swindon, Sheffield, Kent, Birmingham, Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester.

Vaccinations and antibiotics recommended

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," he 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."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We are aware of a very small number of cases of diphtheria reported at Manston. Full medical guidance and protocols have been followed.

"We take both the welfare of those in our care and our wider public health responsibilities extremely seriously. As such, we will continue to work closely with the NHS and UK Health Security Agency to support the individuals affected and limit transmission of the infection, including providing diphtheria vaccines."

A deal on Channel crossings?

Meanwhile, a deal between the UK and France on Channel crossings is expected in the coming week.

A provisional total of arrivals for 2022 had been 39,913 ahead of the weekend, but more people arrived in the UK on Saturday for the first time this month after a spell of bad weather.