EU warns against complacency over swine flu

(AFP)

The European Union warned Monday against complacency over the spread of swine flu and urged people to get vaccinated even though the virus has not hit as hard as first feared.

"Even if the pandemic situation isn't so dramatic in Europe right now, we have to listen to the experts who say it's not time to lower our guard," said Swedish Public Health Minister Maria Larsson, whose country holds the EU presidency.

The A(H1N1) virus "hasn't hurt us as much as we thought, and I hope that people still want to have a vaccination," she told reporters, at an extraordinary EU meeting on the disease in Luxembourg.

"It's the best way to get good protection," she said.

At least 4,525 people have died from swine flu infections since the A(H1N1) virus was uncovered in April, the World Health Organisation said Friday.

Most deaths occurred in the Americas region, where 3,292 fatalities have been reported. Some 890 people have died from the infection in the Asia-Pacific region, while at least 193 fatal cases have been recorded in Europe.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou also warned that while it was up to individuals to decide whether they should get vaccinated, it was probably better to take precautions.

"We don't know how this virus will evolve with the change of weather. So we have to be prepared for the worst hoping the worst will not come," she said.

In a statement from their talks, the EU ministers urged the bloc's executive arm to "continue to support procurement processes for the vaccine for those member states, candidate countries, potential candidates and neighbouring countries who do not have a current agreement with manufacturers."

The commission has cleared for distribution in Europe three vaccines to fight swine flu, amid fears of a second wave of the virus.

The move came after the London-based European Medicines Agency (EMEA) recommended on October 2 that the Celvapan vaccine, produced by US drugs firm Baxter, be used across the EU's 27 member nations.

European authorities have already fast-tracked approval of two other vaccines -- Pandemrix from British firm GlaxoSmithKline and Focetria from Swiss peer Novartis -- amid mounting fears about the new winter influenza season.

EU Health Commissioner Vassilou said that all three manufacturers have said that a single dose would be enough to immunise someone against swine flu.

"Tomorrow, two of these companies, and in the next week a third one, will submit a proposal (to EMEA) that one dose is enough," she told reporters.

EMEA will consider the application from the first two manufacturers next week, Vassilou added.

Its recommendations must also be approved by the European Commission.

In Britain, which is the European nation worst hit by swine flu, vaccinations are expected to begin later this month.

cm-loc/jf/lth

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