David Prosser: So how much did swine flu cost us?


Outlook: Gordon Brown's announcement of the election date on 5 April rather blew all other Government news out of the water.

Very few people noticed the release issued jointly that day by the Department of Health and GlaxoSmithKline, explaining that the pharmaceuticals giant would sell the British taxpayer only 38.4 million doses of its swine flu vaccine, rather than the 60 million ordered by the Government at the height of the panic over the pandemic.

It was in the interests of GSK to do a deal – the lost revenue from the vaccine will be made up for by other guaranteed orders from the DoH for its drugs. Similarly, it seems churlish to criticise the Government for having over-ordered stocks of swine flu vaccine – at the time the contract was agreed no one, including the world's most expert epidemiologists, had any idea whether the virus really was going to be the "big one". Had it turned out that ministers had under-ordered, can you imagine the outcry?

What is regrettable, however, is that the Government has consistently refused to disclose how much it originally agreed to pay GSK, or what this month's deal would cost the taxpayer.

The first quarter trading update revealed by the company reveals just what a stonking money spinner the swine flu scare has been, with worldwide revenues from the vaccine totalling almost £700m – in the first three months of the year alone.

This is not to criticise GSK – as some have done – for making money from the crisis. It did a fabulous job last year under huge pressures in meeting the demand for drugs that might have been needed to save many millions of lives. For months last summer, it poured resources into producing the vaccine, all the time fearing it might not be able to come up with the goods in time.

Nevertheless, British taxpayers surely have a right to know how much of our money the company has had.

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