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Annual flu campaign 'could fall victim to pandemic threat'

By Lilian Anekwe

Concerns have emerged that the production of the annual seasonal flu vaccine could be thrown into jeopardy if a flu pandemic is declared.

Current international pandemic flu protocols stipulate that in the event of a pandemic developing pharmaceutical companies could be forced to cease production of the annual season flu vaccine to focus on the development and production of a vaccine against the new variant of the H1N1 virus.

The Department of Health has contracts in place with GSK and Baxter to manufacture a vaccine against pandemic flu as soon as it becomes available.

But health secretary Alan Johnson has admitted a vaccine against would take at least six months to produce, and the Department of Health may consider putting the manufacture of the annual season flu vaccine on hold while a pandemic flu vaccine in produced.

This could see a return to the chaos GPs faced in previous years when the annual flu vaccine has run short, and experts warned the excess numbers of elderly people could be put at risk of death.

A spokesperson for the UK Vaccines Industry Group told Pulse: ‘The current situation is that the manufacture of this coming flu season's vaccine is under way, That normally starts in February and takes around six months.

‘If a pandemic is declared the protocol is for competent agencies to make a decision on the balance of stopping the manufacture of the annual flu vaccine, in preference for a vaccine against the pandemic flu strain. There is the potential for an all or nothing situation.'

Professor John Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘Even if swine flu gets going, there's still seasonal flu to contend with. We don't want a sizeable population of over seventies going down with seasonal flu.

‘That could be a crisis. If the supply of seasonal flu vaccine falls, it will put the elderly at risk of normal seasonal flu. This winter we saw high rates of flu and that could easily happen next year. We could see excess deaths.'

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: ‘If manufacturers start pandemic flu production, this could have an impact on the availability of seasonal flu vaccine for next year.'

Annual flu vaccination could fall victim to pandemic vaccination drive

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