Swedes seek common approach to flu pandemic

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Sweden is seeking pan-European agreement on a common strategy for containing the spread of Influenza A (H1N1), as the EU gears up for a predicted surge in cases this autumn.

The Swedes currently hold the rotating six-month EU Presidency and are anxious to foster greater cooperation between EU countries amid fears that the pandemic could stifle economic recovery by forcing millions of Europeans to stay home from work due to illness. 

Previous public health crises suggest European countries are not always eager to share resources, particularly stockpiles of antiviral medicines which are likely to be in high demand. 

Efforts are under way to produce and register a vaccine, which it is hoped will be available for delivery beginning this autumn. Several major pharmaceutical companies are competing for the lucrative new vaccine market. 

A Chinese firm, Sinovac, this week (August 18) claimed to have completed clinical trials of the first single-shot vaccine against the current strain of the H1N1 virus. Its shares shot up 10% as a result. 

Demand for flu vaccines is likely to outstrip demand as the virus spreads across Europe, giving rise to the potential for tensions between European countries as they balance the need for information sharing with protecting their national interests and local populations. 

Under the guidance of the World Health Organisation, EU member states are working to cobble together a common strategy to battle the virus. 

Sweden is pushing for common procurement of vaccines and a European Council working group has been established to help devise a cohesive approach to communication campaigns and managing the spread of the flu. 

EU health ministers are expected to adopt conclusions on the strategy at a meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) on 12 October. By that time, a clearer picture will be available on the distribution of the virus and the availability of vaccines. 

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