A special meeting of European health ministers next month will discuss “solidarity measures” which could see flu vaccines shared between countries. However, there is likely to be resistance from member states that have ordered large quantities of the vaccine for their citizens.
German MEP Jo Leinen, who chairs the European Parliament committee responsible for public health, acknowledged cooperation “might be a problem” as health is the responsibility of national governments.
Speaking today (3 September) at a press briefing in Brussels, he said governments have already ordered varying quantities of vaccines from drug manufacturers and “this might create problems in the autumn when the virus really hits home”.
He said devising a system which will allow the transfer of vaccines between countries will be a priority for health ministers when they meet to discuss the pandemic next month.
“We’d like to see a solidarity mechanism put in place between the 27 member states because it may well be that the vaccine isn’t available in equal amounts across the EU. Sweden, which holds the rotating six-month EU Presidency, is anxious to foster close cooperation between member states amid concerns that a major flu outbreak could hamper Europe’s prospects of economic recovery.
Vaccine to be available in early October
Leinen also expressed concern that the most vulnerable groups in society will face delays in accessing vaccines.
“The H1N1 vaccine won’t be ready until the beginning of October for those who are healthy, and then only in December for vulnerable groups. We’ve often heard it said that vulnerable groups should be vaccinated first but in fact the vaccine for those citizens will be ready last,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, China’s health authorities approved the mass production of a H1N1 vaccine by Sinovac Biotech. The company, whose stock has risen 77% in the last two weeks, described the pandemic as “an opportunity”.
It issued a statement forecasting an annual sales increase of greater than 20%. Sinovac’s Panflu vaccine has been tested on 1,600 volunteers, 10% of whom have had an adverse reaction.
Sinovac CEO Yin Weidong is quoted by Reuters as saying most of the side effects were “minor”. So far, there have not been any serious or abnormal reactions reported,” Yin said.