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Government's surplus vaccine deal with GSK

The UK's Department of Health has announced it has reached a deal with GlaxoSmithKline regarding outstanding orders of the swine flu vaccine

The UK's Department of Health (DH) has announced it has reached a deal with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) regarding outstanding orders of the swine flu vaccine.

The deal will see the government's order for GSK's Pandemrix vaccine capped at 34.8 million doses, including those already received.

With this cap, the government will save around one third of the original value of total orders from GSK, with previous measures from the government seeing enough vaccine ordered to protect the entire population, if needed.

In light of developments concerning swine flu however, experts have advised that such a precaution is no longer necessary. The total figure of doses now represents the stock that GSK had produced for the UK and could not reasonably retract.

Although details of the agreement are commercially confidential, the DH did say there would be no cancellation fee.

Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, said: "I am pleased we have reached an agreement that is good value for the taxpayer and means that the Department has retained a strategic stockpile to protect the UK population without incurring a cancellation fee. This both protects the public purse and ensures the UK remains at the forefront of pandemic preparedness worldwide."

Unused vaccines will be kept in reserve in case the virus causes another wave of illness. Immunisation will also remain for patients in priority groups, such as pregnant women.

The government also intends to donate 3.8 million doses of the vaccine to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to use in Africa prior to the rainy season.

Despite the news, the DH urged that "it is essential to remain vigilant and prepared in case it [swine flu] re-emerges in the UK."

The DH also sought to remind the population of the risk of a 'bird flu', or H5N1 virus, pandemic, saying the risk "remains just as likely as before the current pandemic and it is prudent that the UK maintains a stockpile of vaccine that is licensed and ready to use."

Part of the deal with GSK will see the DH receive H5N1 virus vaccines and courses of the antiviral Relenza to replace the amount used during the swine flu outbreak.

The WHO has retained a pandemic alert phase III for the H5N1 virus, with the cumulative number of confirmed human cases of 'bird flu' reported to WHO standing at 489 as of March 10, 2010, with 289 deaths.

"The probability of a 'bird flu' pandemic, which is likely to be more severe than swine flu, has not diminished," said Burnham.

"This agreement means we are ready if a 'bird flu' pandemic occurred, and allows us to maintain our status as one of the most prepared countries in the world."

6th April 2010

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