France, Germany, Spain and Britain seek to break contracts with H1N1 vaccine suppliers
Criticized for spending too much money on H1N1 vaccines that went unused, several European countries are re-negotiating contracts with suppliers, returning vaccine, or selling it or donating it to lower-income countries that lacked early access.
Britain on Friday joined several other European nations with an oversupply of H1N1 vaccines in taking steps to end contracts with pharmaceutical suppliers. The United States, also sitting on an overabundant supply of vaccine due to lack of public demand, has not yet decided whether to cancel any orders or whether it will sell or donate surplus vaccine.
Britain’s Department of Health said it might exercise a break clause in its contract with Baxter International and is in talks with GlaxoSmithKline about reducing further supplies of its H1N1 vaccine. The health department is also considering selling or donating vaccine stock to other countries.
France Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot announced on Monday that she has cancelled almost half (50 million doses) of the 94 million doses ordered from Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Baxter.
Germany wants to cancel half the 50 million doses it ordered from GlaxoSmithKline.
Spain announced last month that it was planning to return unused vaccine.
The Netherlands and Switzerland plan to ship surplus supplies to countries still facing a shortage.
Some government officials suggest they ordered supplies based on the understanding that each individual vaccinated would need two shots. However, it was later determined that one jab was sufficient to protect against the H1N1 flu virus.
"All of the vaccination programs were built on two shots and the good news is that ... we only need one shot to get us protected. So, there is a natural excess there," European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) flu expert Angus Nicoll told Reuters.
At a media briefing Thursday, Anne Schuchat, chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization effort, said U.S. demand remains stable and the government is still focused on vaccinating as many people as possible.
"We believe right now we have ample supply,” Schuchat said. “We're really encouraging people to get vaccinated. So we haven't made decisions here in the U.S. about giving back vaccines."
The health official said more than 60 million people have gotten the vaccine and there 136 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are currently available to states that want to order it.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department contracted with several companies -- Sanofi Aventis, CSL, AstraZeneca (MedImmune) and GlaxoSmithKline -- to make 251 million doses of H1N1 vaccine as well as seasonal flu vaccine.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s Director-General Margaret Chan has called for international solidarity to provide equitable access to pandemic influenza vaccine for all countries. Distribution of donated pandemic influenza vaccines has begun to the first of 95 low- and middle-income countries. On 7 January, Mongolia became the first country to take delivery of vaccines.