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Chiron to make up shortfall in UK flu vaccine

Published on 25/11/05 at 10:54am

Chiron has agreed to help the UK government make up a shortfall in flu vaccine supplies by producing an extra 200,000 doses.

The company supplies vaccine to the UK along with five other companies - Solvay, GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth, MASTA and Sanofi Pasteur - but Chiron has been the first to confirm it can increase its output.

The new supplies will be produced at its facility in Speke, Merseyside - the factory where manufacturing problems last year were blamed for a huge shortfall in US supplies of the flu vaccine.

MHRA officials closed the manufacturing site down in October 2004 because of possible microbial contamination in some batches. The intervention also stopped the distribution of 50 million vaccine doses, most of which were destined for the US.

Chiron bore the blame for cutting off 50% of America's flu vaccine supply, but this year the re-opened factory could help the UK government out of its own embarrassing position.

A row has blown up over how UK supplies have run short this year, with doctors reacting angrily to suggestions they did not ration the vaccine to at risk groups alone.

The widely reported fears concerning a bird flu pandemic are blamed for an increased demand from the 'worried well' who request the flu jab, but doctors said the government's guidelines have also been unclear.

Chiron said it has robust contingency plans to meet the UK's extra demand and that it is negotiating with the Department of Health (DH) to provide further supplies on top of the extra 200,000 doses.

The DH said its preference was to negotiate a deal with just one manufacturer but would not divulge further details.

Another manufacturer Solvay, said the earliest it could provide extra supplies from its Netherlands manufacturing site would be in the New Year.

Dr John Peters, chief executive of Solvay UK, said: "It is still unclear how much our manufacturing plant can yield up."

Solvay, like a number of other vaccine manufactures, has almost reached maximum capacity and its commitments to supply other countries has made it difficult to provide extra stock for the UK market.

GlaxoSmithKline, meanwhile, has said it will not be manufacturing any further influenza vaccine for the UK, which it says can take between four and six months to produce.

Instead, the company is contacting GP practices around the country with the aim of switching surplus stock to those practices which are in most need.

The company said its approach had been welcomed by GPs but that it represented insignificant amounts.

For vaccine manufacturers, the increased concerns about flu and programmes to immunize children and the elderly in countries around the world are making the market a more appealing commercial market.

GSK estimates that the flu vaccine market will grow from its current size of under £1 billion today to between £1.6 billion and £2 billion by 2010.

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