EU commissioner says pandemic likely, but may not be deadly

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 01 May 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1834
  1. Rory Watson
  1. 1Brussels

    European Union governments will increase cooperation among themselves in the fight against the novel flu virus but have not committed themselves to sharing their stockpiles of vaccines and antiflu drugs.

    Health ministers from the 27 EU countries also rejected calls from France to introduce a collective travel ban on flights to Mexico when they held an emergency meeting in Luxembourg on 30 April.

    The cooperation will involve use of a common definition to identify infections, cooperation with drug companies to help develop the appropriate vaccines, common case management guidelines, and attempts to coordinate the advice given to the general public.

    Speaking after the meeting, the EU Health Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, said, “We are worried, but we are on top of this and so there is no need to panic. We have been preparing for this for some years now.”

    The commissioner added that a pandemic was “very likely,” but insisted that this did not mean it would necessarily be deadly, pointing out that most patients seem to be responding well to treatment. Attempting to place the current epidemic in context, she reminded the media that some 250 000 people in the world die every year from seasonal influenza.

    Although EU governments have agreed to work closely together to tackle the disease, it is clear that the most important decisions will be taken in national capitals. The formal statement released after the Luxembourg ministerial meeting refers to the need to ensure “the most efficient purchase, management, and distribution” of the vaccine being developed. But it does not specifically commit countries to share their stockpiles or to develop a common European supply.

    Ms Vassiliou, however, maintained that cooperation would extend to this crucial area. “If there is a real escalation of the crisis, member states which have more stockpiles of antivirals expressed their willingness and readiness to help others,” she said.

    Similarly, there was hardly any support for a proposal by France that the 27 countries should stop all flights from their airports to Mexico. Such a move was considered too drastic, would infringe people’s right to travel, and would have little value because the virus had already spread beyond Mexico. Instead, each government will decide whether to introduce travel restrictions.

    The ministers also agreed to establish a special expert committee to coordinate national measures, such as travel advice and communications to the public.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1834

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