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Firms' threat to limit bird flu vaccine

London Telegraph/Rosie Murray-West | October 26 2005

Comment: Jack up prices by creating artificial scarcity and fearmongering about a non-existent threat. And who owns stock in Tamiflu? Rumsfeld and top Bilderbergers.

The makers of flu vaccine yesterday threatened not to produce enough bird flu vaccine to deal with an outbreak unless ministers agreed to buy more of their products.

Richard Stubbins, of the UK Vaccine Industry Group, told a House of Lords select committee that it was "unreasonable" for the Government to expect the industry to build new plants to produce enough vaccine for a pandemic then mothball them.

He called for the Government to vaccinate everyone aged over 50 and possibly children against common flu as a matter of routine. That would guarantee that the extra capacity would be used.

The industry group represents all the companies that produce flu vaccine, including the British giant Glaxosmithkline and the French company Sanofi.

A vaccine for a feared bird flu pandemic cannot be created until the strain of the virus that can pass between humans is identified.

Mr Stubbins said the Government wanted 120 million doses of vaccine as soon as it was available but there was "a lot of work to do" before companies could produce enough to meet demand.

"We have to work very closely with the Government to find ways of increasing the productivity of the industry in as short a time as possible," he said.

One way to encourage companies to do so was to increase the use of ordinary influenza vaccines.

At the moment flu vaccination is free and recommended for people over 65 and those with chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes. Mr Stubbins said the industry was asking health officials to increase coverage until two thirds of the population was routinely vaccinated.

The Lords' science and technology committee asked Mr Stubbins and Dr Kevin Bryett, the British head of the leading vaccine company Chiron, how long it would take for a vaccine to be ready if a pandemic emerged.

They said that it could take between 10 and 11 weeks to modify a vaccine to a particular strain of the virus and sent it to the vaccine companies. It would then be four to six months before the vaccine was ready.

Mr Stubbins said the drugs industry was trying to speed up the process by creating mock-up flu vaccines so that as much work as possible was done before a pandemic emerged and the precise strain could be activated and made into a vaccine for it.

The European Commission agreed to ban the import of most live birds for a month.

Britain had made an urgent call for the ban after the death of an imported parrot at a quarantine facility in Essex blamed on the H5N1 form of the bird flu virus - although Government vets yesterday admitted a mix-up over tests.

Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said she was "very pleased" at the action, while it emerged at the Brussels meeting that Britain had blocked a similar ban in March.

The ban on commercial bird imports is accompanied by restrictions on imports of pet birds.

The European Union Food Safety Agency will advise people today to avoid eating raw eggs and to make sure that poultry is cooked thoroughly.

Herman Koeter, its deputy director, said: "We do not have any evidence that the bird flu virus can be transmitted through food but we can't exclude it either."

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