Swine flu: vaccines for half population to be delivered by December, ministers say
Swine flu vaccine for half the UK population should be delivered by December, ministers have said after signing new contracts with manufacturers.
Alan Johnson, Health Secretary, has signed contracts with GlaxoSmithKline and Baxter for 90m doses of swine flu vaccine – enough for 45m people – once it can be made.
GlaxoSmithKline hope to be able to deliver the 60m doses they are contracted for by the beginning of December, a spokesman said.
It is thought that each person will require two doses of the vaccine in order to have full protection.
The cost of the contracts has not been disclosed and the Department of Health has not disclosed how such a large vaccination programme would be implemented.
Production will begin once the World Health Organisation has released the prototype vaccine, known as seed vaccine, due by the end of this month.
GlaxoSmithKline has estimated the first doses of vaccine will be available four to six months after that.
The production of the swine flu vaccine will start even though WHO has not yet declared a flu pandemic and will not affect the UK stocks of seasonal flu vaccine which are due to be completed by July, GlaxoSmithKline said in a statement.
Experts have warned that although current cases of swine flu have been relatively mild in the developed world, the virus could return in the autumn as a more dangerous disease.
So far there have been over 7,500 confirmed cases of swine flu worldwide with 70 deaths.
Four more children were confirmed as having swine flu on Friday bringing the total in Britain to 82, with 271 further people under investigation.
The Department of Health will vaccinate high risk groups first, including healthcare workers, people with long-term conditions who normally receive the seasonal flu jab, the elderly and children, who together make up around 45 per cent of the population.
Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson 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.
"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.
"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."
If the WHO does declare a pandemic, these contracts will be superseded by ones already in place under which the UK Government can order up to 132m doses.
The exact timing of the production and deliveries can only be estimated because it is not known yet how well the virus will grow in the laboratory and how much virus antigen will need to be included in each dose.
GlaxoSmithKline has developed a new method of creating vaccine to eek out the precious antigens needed in each dose and still produce full protection against contracting the virus.
The method means that two or three times as much vaccine can be created from the normal amount of antigen, however this will depend on how well the virus grows in the laboratory.
France, Belgium and Finland have also placed orders for H1N1 vaccine with GlaxoSmithKline.