The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised the UK for being one of the best prepared countries for future flu pandemics.
The comments were made as the UK Department of Health launched its Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011, which aims to create more flexibility and clearer communication between all parties involved in the government response to a pandemic.
WHO assistant director-general for health security and environment Dr Keiji Fukuda said, "The UK remains amongst the leaders worldwide in preparing for a pandemic. The new UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy builds positively on the lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic in setting the UK’s strategic approach to pandemic preparedness and response".
The strategy has been developed following a consultation with health and social care professionals, and states that research and development into animal and human influenza and behavioural science continues to be necessary.
Plans for a the development of a universal influenza vaccine, however, are still along way off. As the Department of Health explains in the preparedness strategy report, "There is unlikely to be any development capable of widespread application in this area in the short term and further research is needed."
During any year, a small proportion of slightly altered viruses will emerge from the larger population of influenza viruses, meaning that identifying the exact strain of virus could take time, with production of specific vaccines taking four to six months.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, explaining the strategy’s goals on the day of launch, said: "This strategy sets out a clear framework to help planners in the NHS and other services to make sure we respond effectively to a flu pandemic.
"Good communications, strong preparations and close working with our health and social care professionals are key to ensuring the impact on services and to the public is kept to a minimum should a pandemic occur."