The UK Department of Health (DoH) has reached a deal with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to cut the growing stockpile of unneeded swine flu vaccine doses after it became evident that vaccinating the country’s entire population is not necessary.
To protect the population from the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the DoH ordered 90 million doses of the vaccine from pharmaceutical firms GSK and Baxter, but subsiding fears over the threat level have resulted in less than 5 million people being vaccinated.
The new deal will cap the vaccine order from GSK to around 38.4 million doses, down from the original 60 million.
A further 30 million doses ordered from Baxter Healthcare were cancelled at the end of February through a get-out clause.
The government believes the final settlement will save around a third of the original value of the total orders with GSK, but the remaining stockpile of unneeded vaccines is still expected to cost the taxpayer in the region of £150m.
UK Health Secretary Andy Burnham said that the agreement is good value for the taxpayer because the DoH had retained a strategic stockpile to protect the population without incurring a cancellation fee.
“This both protects the public purse and ensures the UK remains at the forefront of pandemic preparedness worldwide,” Burnham said.
Unused vaccines will be kept as a strategic reserve in case of further outbreaks and the department will also continue to immunise high risk priority groups such as pregnant women.
Around 3.8 million doses of vaccine will also be donated to the World Health Organization to boost immunity in Africa before the rainy season.
As part of the cancellation agreement, the DoH will also buy GSK’s H5NI vaccine and courses of the antiviral Relenza to protect against bird flu, which the department still views as a higher public risk than swine flu.