Thursday, August 27, 2009

Swine flu vaccine arrives in UK but roll-out will have to wait

Swine flu vaccine must sit in storage for over a month while manufacturers wait to see whether it will be given a licence

The first batch of swine flu vaccine has arrived in the UK, but it must sit in storage for more than a month while the manufacturers wait to see whether it will be given a licence, the chief medical officer said today.
The news of the delivery of around 200,000 packs of the vaccine came as it was announced that the UK death toll from swine flu has risen to 66 after 11 fatalities in the past week.
The vaccine packs made by Baxter Healthcare – one of two drug companies with whom the government has signed contracts – have been delivered ahead of the drugs being approved, in contrast to the normal process for new drugs and treatments.
The European Medicines Agency will now decide whether to licence this vaccine and one made by GlaxoSmithKline. Both manufacturers hope to have their licence by early October, which will mean the roll-out can begin later that month. ..
When the vaccine is available, many people may be reluctant to be immunised because of fears it has not been tested properly, recent surveys of health care workers and the public suggest.
A Canadian study published on Monday indicated that a successful vaccination campaign would need to win over people who believe that alternative therapies and a good diet are a better option than vaccines.
Today the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said the health professionals he had spoken to seemed to want the vaccine as soon as it became available. "It still remains the case that this disease is not a killer but it can kill," he said.
While the vaccine sits in storage, the epidemic in the UK continues to abate.
Donaldson, who repeated warnings of a second wave of swine flu in the autumn, said the number of cases was currently down to what would be normal levels of flu if this was winter – although clearly this was abnormal for summer.
In the last week, the Health Protection Agency said there were an estimated 5,000 cases of swine flu - although the true figure could be anywhere between 3,000 and 12,000. There have been three swine flu deaths in England, seven in Scotland and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland over the last week. There were 218 people hospitalised with swine flu in the last week, which is a fall, but is high for the summer.
In contrast to most countries, only 22% of deaths in the UK have been among healthy people, said Donaldson. Figures from the World Health Organisation suggested 40% of those who had died were previously healthy. The proportion ending up in intensive care in the UK also appeared to be lower, he said.
More than 460,000 packets of the antiviral Tamiflu have been given out via the government's National Pandemic Flu Service for England since it launched in July.

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