Intended for healthcare professionals


Government is in talks with GSK to offload surplus swine flu vaccine

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 11 January 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c170
  1. Caroline White
  1. 1London

    The Department of Health in England is negotiating with GlaxoSmithKline over what can be done with millions of doses of swine flu vaccine it has ordered under contract from the company but that are now unlikely to be needed.

    GSK has so far delivered 24 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, of which 15.5 million have been sent out to health services. Baxter, the other contracted manufacturer, has delivered five million doses, of which 0.6 million have been despatched.

    But the government signed up to around 90 million doses in May 2009, with buying power for up to 132 million if a pandemic were declared.

    Plans to extend vaccination beyond the designated priority groups have been shelved as swine flu activity continues to fall in the United Kingdom. Levels are now below those seen normally in flu in winter, and the chance of a “third wave” of pandemic H1N1 flu in the UK looks slim.

    David Salisbury, the health department’s head of immunisation, said at the weekly press briefing on swine flu on 8 January, “The contract with Baxter has a break clause, so we have been able to press the button on that. For the other contract we are in discussions with GSK about future supplies of the vaccine.”

    He would not be drawn on the details, but how much of the total order could be recouped was under discussion, he said. Options included selling or giving away the surplus stock. Another idea is to use the adjuvant, which is supplied separately, for a different pandemic.

    “There is no preferred option, because there is no single option,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen [in the future], and we know that some in the risk groups have not been vaccinated, so we would look very foolish if we disposed of a valuable stockpile.”

    Areas in the world that continue to have high rates of swine flu infection include east Asia and the United States. An estimated 47 million people had been infected up to mid-November in the US, and a third surge in cases is forecast for next month.

    In England the number of GP consultations for flu-like illness was 11.2 per 100 000 consultations in the week ending 3 January, down from 12.7 the previous week and well below the English baseline threshold of 30 per 100 000. The estimated number of new cases of swine flu was less than 5000.

    As at 6 January the number of admissions to hospital for swine flu had fallen by a third to 393, which includes 103 critical care cases. Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer, said that children under 5 years old continue to make up most of these cases, but the proportion among the over-65s has risen sharply in recent weeks, possibly as a result of the very cold weather.

    So far in the UK swine flu has killed 360 people—251 in England, 28 in Wales, 64 in Scotland, and 17 in Northern Ireland—but the mortality rate had not risen, Professor Donaldson added.

    The disparity in the predicted and actual scale of swine flu has fuelled suspicions in some quarters that the drug industry exercised undue influence on the World Health Organization in a bid to promote its products.

    But Professor Salisbury dismissed a resolution from the Council of Europe calling for an investigation into the matter. He said he had seen some of the background material and knew about the participation of those deemed to have a conflict of interest.

    “I don’t believe there are any grounds whatsoever [for this],” he said. “ I don’t believe there is a charge to be answered.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c170