Exclusive - Six-week delay for swine flu jabs

Wait for European approval may hold up start of swine flu programme.

Sir Liam Donaldson
Sir Liam Donaldson

The swine flu vaccination programme is unlikely to get underway for at least six weeks although one of the vaccines to be used in the UK has been approved, the GPC has warned.

Last week the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) backed the GSK vaccine Pandemrix, of which the DoH has ordered 60 million doses, for use in at-risk groups.

The second vaccine to be used in the UK, produced by Baxter, is expected to receive EMEA approval in the next few days.

However, the European Commission has still to grant EU-wide marketing authorisation for the vaccines.

A spokeswoman for the DoH confirmed that the vaccination programme cannot begin until the commission backs the jabs.

'The European Commission must consider the recommendations and we hope for its decision as quickly as possible,' she said.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC lead for pandemic flu, told GP: 'We are no further forward with the vaccination campaign.

'My understanding is that it will take a further six weeks for the vaccine to go through the European Commission. We are not yet ready to run the vaccination campaign.'

But Dr Holden added that the longer it takes for the vaccine to be available on the NHS, the more secure supplies will be.

'There will be a buffer of stock. What we do not want to see is a vaccination campaign that stalls when vaccine supplies run out.'

Speaking to GP before the EMEA announcement, CMO for England Sir Liam Donaldson said he was sure the vaccination programme would start in October.

'This flu virus will be around for longer than this autumn, so it is important that we have a vaccine in place,' he said.

Sir Liam said that a second wave of swine flu was on its way after the number of 'flu cases increased in England for the second consecutive week'.

Health Protection Agency data show 9,200 confirmed cases of swine flu last week, almost a doubling of cases from the week before.

It is believed that the rise is being fuelled by children returning to school, with 66 school outbreaks reported since the start of the autumn term.

 

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