Swine flu: Government signs up for 90 million doses of vaccine
The deals with pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Baxter will secure “early supplies” of a vaccine for the newly identified H1N1 strain.
Enough “pre-pandemic” vaccine has been ordered to protect at least half of the population by December, at an estimated cost of £100 million.
This is in addition to the purchase of 500 million doses of anti-viral drugs that have already been stockpiled to help treat illness and deals to procure vaccine in the event of a pandemic.
So far only 184 cases of the newly identified H1N1 strain have been confirmed in Britain, with all those infected showing only minor symptoms.
However, experts predict that swine flu — which is actually a recombination of existing animal and human flu strains — could cause a second wave of more widespread illness in winter.
The Department of Health said that the agreement could provide enough vaccine to protect health workers and the most vulnerable patients before a pandemic arrived, without affecting the normal supply of seasonal flu vaccine.
The jabs could be given as a priority to the elderly, patients with chronic conditions as well as NHS and social care staff.
It may be that the vaccine would be supplied in two or more doses, necessitating the order for more treatment courses than the total population of Britain.
The Government has already signed agreements worth £155 million to supply up to 132 million doses of vaccine to inoculate people in the event of a pandemic.
It has also procured enough anti-viral drugs to cover 80 per cent of the population, at a cost of more than £500 million.
But it refused to disclose the additional cost of the new contracts signed.
The World Health Organisation’s official alert level remains at phase five out of six — one step away from declaring a global pandemic. But France, Belgium and Finland are among other countries that are stockpiling doses of potential vaccine as a precautionary measure for such an event.
The vaccines used before and during a pandemic would almost certainly be the same unless the strain mutates sufficiently to require an entirely new vaccine to be made.
Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, said: “The localised cases of swine flu found in the UK have so far been mild, and our strategy of containing the spread with anti-virals appears to have been effective in reducing symptoms and preventing further spread of infection.”
But, he added: “Scientists tell us that as yet we don’t know enough about this novel strain, or whether it’s likely to mutate, but that this virus has the potential to become a pandemic and we can’t predict how serious that would be.”
Mr Johnson told the House of Commons that it could take four to six months before a vaccine could be manufactured in the event of a pandemic and more than a year until it would be available in sufficient quantities for the whole population.
“We have an opportunity to secure vaccine in advance of a pandemic wave… These additional arrangements provide the opportunity by December this year to have enough pre-pandemic vaccine to protect at least half of the population from swine flu.”
Health Direct is pleased that Alan Johnson seems to be on the ball with Swine Flu, but why the secrecy over the additional costs?
Surely Alan Johnson- one of the spposedly “saints” over MPs expenses, realises that silence is the devil’s friend. These extra costs will eventually be published. And will they met be from the NHS’s existing budget or the Treasury’s Contingency Fund?