Government cuts H1N1 vaccine order by two-thirds

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The Independent Online

The Department of Health and GlaxoSmithKline yesterday agreed to cut the number of doses of swine flu vaccine the Government will buy from the group by about two-thirds, after the H1N1 virus proved to be far less devastating than first feared.

Last year, when concerns about the the virus were high, the Government ordered enough vaccine for everyone in Britain from GSK and the US pharmaceutical group Baxter. Health officials yesterday said that they would now take just 34.8 million doses of GSK's treatment, after initially ordering 90 million batches. The company had recommended at the start of the pandemic that each patient take two doses of the drug. The Government terminated its contract with Baxter in February.

"This deal means that the UK will save approximately one third of the original value of the orders with GSK," said the Health Secretary, Andy Burnham. "I am pleased we have reached an agreement that is good value for the taxpayer and means the department has retained a strategic stockpile to protect the UK population without incurring a cancellation fee."

While the Government is not paying a cancellation fee, it is paying substantially more per dose for the vaccine. GSK said that the Government would receive other treatments, such as H5N1 bird flu vaccine and courses of the anti-viral Relenza, to balance the deal.

The Department of Health said that the UK now has a stockpile of 23.6 million doses and confirmed that those deemed vulnerable to the virus, such as pregnant women and health workers, would continue to get the drug. The Government said it would donate 3.8 million batches of swine flu vaccine to the World Health Organisation.

Both the Government and GSK have refused to say how much the UK has paid for swine flu vaccine. A Freedom of Information request submitted by The Independent to force the Government to disclose how much it was paying per dose was rejected on the grounds that the details would "prejudice the commercial interests" of GSK and the Government's ability to negotiate with its commercial partners.

GSK has charged governments on a sliding scale, from €7 for the most developed economies, to 50 million free doses submitted for distribution by the World Health Organisation. The UK was offered a discount, but the size of the cut has not been made public.

Yesterday's deal is the result of lengthy negotiations between the Government and GSK and follows similar action from the German authorities, who agreed to take and pay for 70 per cent of its original order in January.

GSK is in talks with a number of other administrations over plans to par back vaccine orders. A host of northern hemisphere countries are known to want to slash orders after the initial spike in incidents of swine flu cases quickly tailed off. Among them, France, Belgium and Spain are thought to be in talks with GSK.

The company said that it would not be altering its earnings estimates for 2010, saying that it expects to see swine flu vaccine sales of about £880m this year, a similar amount to 2009.