Governments across the EU are signalling that they believe that the threat of swine flu is coming to a close, with many looking to offload unwanted H1N1 vaccines. Several European countries have almost twice the number of doses required to immunise their population and many others are considering cutting or cancelling orders.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reports that H1N1 infections remain at a mostly medium to low intensity level across the EU, with a fall in the number of reported cases in the last two weeks of the year. Nearly 2000 people have died of swine flu in the EU, with another 11,000 deaths reported around the world.
The principal reason European health services have over-ordered the H1N1 vaccine rests with the original guidance given by medical advisers that each person would require two doses of the vaccine when mass immunisation programmes began. The European Medicines Agency has now said that one vaccination should be sufficient to protect the majority of the population. Added to this, the predicted winter surge in swine flu cases has not materialised, cutting the need to vaccinate entire populations.
The UK’s Department of Health has said that it is now exploring the possibility of selling some of its surplus vaccines, although it will not divulge the number of vaccines ordered claiming that this is still the subject of negotiation and commercially confidential. Uptake of the H1N1 vaccine has been slower in the UK and many European countries than expected, partly due to public fears over the vaccine’s safety. To date the UK has vaccinated 3m people who are considered to be at a greater risk of developing life threatening complications, while another 343,000 front line health workers have also received the vaccine.
The French government ordered 94m doses of the H1N1 vaccine for its population of 64m and is already starting to offload excess vaccines. France reportedly spent €869m on the vaccine and is looking to sell its stockpile at prices close to those it paid. It has already sold 300,000 shots to Qatar and is in discussions with other countries, including Mexico and Ukraine. Egypt is also reported to be negotiating with the French government for 2m vaccines.
Other countries considering a fire-sale of H1N1 vaccines include the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Presently, the Netherlands is planning the biggest clean out, with 19m of its 34m vaccines up for sale. The Swiss government has said that it will donate or sell 4.5m vaccines, while the German government plans to cut its order of 50m doses of GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix in half.
Flu vaccine specifically for over 65s approved
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Sanofi Pasteur’s high-dose seasonal flu vaccine for the over-65s. The highdose Fluzone vaccine was developed by Sanofi Pasteur to produce a more robust immune response in elderly patients who do not respond well to standard flu vaccines. Clinical studies of high-dose Fluzone, which contains four times the amount of antigen found in the standard vaccine, have shown that it produces a more powerful immune response. However, there are no trials that demonstrate that the high-dose Fluzone vaccine is any more effective at preventing seasonal flu in the over-65s than the standard vaccine.