Medical experts and national governments are increasingly voicing concern about the current flu outbreak in Europe and US. The current pandemic is being caused by the most highly virulent of all the influenza strains, H1N1 flu.
The European Health Forum (EHF) has been warning for months that these vaccines were going to be so expensive they would result in a failure of delivery.The message from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is similarly: this strain needs to be prevented from hitting home. And governments are already raising barriers to the process, like drug companies which have slashed their price with the arrival of these killer viruses.
Currently in Europe, millions of vaccines are needed against this major strain which we believe can lead to localised epidemics and deadly pandemics. These vaccines are expensive and the WHO estimates will be cost £1 billion if we do not get them in the first weeks of summer.
The European Union is working to ensure vaccine is made more quickly and cheaper. In the near future, members of the EU are working with the pharmaceuticals industry on how to facilitate faster and cheaper vaccine production, to ensure that those in need get them soonest.
The chief medical officer of the European Commission, Liam Donaldson, has called for the principle of public vaccination, like in the UK, to be strengthened. We welcome and encourage further co-operation with national governments in this regard. The seasonal flu vaccination programme, which was introduced in the UK last year, was immensely popular and helped a lot of people to be vaccinated before they got sick or died. The advice should be to get vaccinated against the various strains of the H1N1 flu virus as soon as possible.
We can see that the reaction to the outbreak in Europe is more negative than on mainland Europe. Some reports say that healthcare in the affected countries have been affected. Unsurprisingly, over the last couple of months, two companies have shut down their flu vaccine plants in Spain. About 400 people are employed by them in this particular area. The problems in Spain are leading to calls from some EU member states for similar closure orders. These closures would force vaccine manufacturers to shut down more production and therefore to suspend supplies to hospitals. This would impact a lot on the workers who handle these medical products.
We all support the urgent need to prevent new flu infections and we are concerned about the impact on jobs and particularly on the healthcare worker workforce. We believe that vaccine companies should make their products to be cheaper and quicker to manufacture to ensure the provision of emergency protection.