Swine flu vaccine supplies secured and costed.

Fresh hope of protection against the H1N1 flu outbreak emerged when the labour government said it had signed a £450m agreement to reserve scarce manufacturing capacity for 90m doses of vaccine by the end of the year.

The contract, which individuals close to the talks estimated to be worth about £5 a dose, may spark international concerns as some richer countries negotiate with producers for privileged access to limited supplies of a pandemic vaccine .

The deal comes at a time when worried parents have raised the idea of “swine flu parties” – to expose the family to the virus while it remains relatively mild – and have made efforts to obtain the antiviral flu treatment Tamiflu through private prescriptions and the internet. Officials have advised against both approaches.

No vaccine is currently available to protect against the H1N1 virus first identified in Mexico, and there is considerable doubt that the current seasonal vaccines will provide any help.

With scientists close to preparing a “seed virus” from the current H1N1 strain isolated in Mexico, the UK funding will allow for production of a vaccine over the next few months – in time for a second wave of infection expected during the flu season towards the end of the year.

Alan Johnson, health secretary, said: “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.”

GlaxoSmithKline, which won the contract to supply 60m of the 90m British doses, said it had also sold a further 50m doses to France, 13m to Belgium and 5m to Finland. Baxter, which will supply the UK’s remaining 30m doses , said it had not finalised any other H1N1 vaccine contracts.

The UK already agreed two years ago to pay £155m for ” advance supply agreements ” which reserve manufacturing capacity for production of 132m doses of a future pandemic vaccine sufficient to cover the entire population. If the World Health Organisation raises its assessment of the current H1N1 virus to a full pandemic, this earlier contract will be triggered.

But with total annual seasonal flu production estimated at 400m doses globally, there is unlikely to be sufficient capacity to cover the entire world, even with new approaches and technologies to boost productivity.


What a difference a day and the FT can make.

In the Health Direct blog post yesterday Swine flu: Government signs up for 90 million doses of vaccine Labour Ministers have signed agreements to secure up to 90 million doses of swine flu vaccine.

We asked why the costs of the new order were being kept confidential. Thanks to the Financial Times for uncovering the amount we are paying for the questionable cover.

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