Sweden “must produce own bird flu vaccine”

In the event of an outbreak of bird flu, Sweden does not have enough vaccines to go round. In a report due to be handed over to the government in a fortnight, the Board of Health says that Sweden should begin building a new factory to produce enough influenza vaccines for the entire population.

That is the Board’s preferred option out of three which it proposes.

The simplest alternative is to coordinate the purchase of vaccines by the country’s local councils, which currently arrange their own supplies.

A second option is to sign long term agreements with pharmaceutical companies and production facilities which already exist.

But the plan favoured by the Board of Health is by far the most expensive: Sweden should begin building a new factory to produce influenza vaccines for the Swedish population.

According to Svenska Dagbladet, a number of vaccine producers are already being sounded out about the idea and the Board of Health believes that it is entirely feasible. The stumbling block, however, is the cost, which has been put at between 500 million and 750 million kronor.

It is unclear who would foot the bill, and the Board suggests cooperation with the other Nordic countries in an effort to share the costs. But it argues that domestic production is the country’s best option:

“Sweden cannot count on getting access to the quantity of vaccines that we would need, at least during the early stages of the pandemic, but domestic production would increase the possibility of vaccinating the Swedish population,” says the report.

With the discovery of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus in Turkey, Swedish authorities have been attempting to play down the immediate threat to human.

Anders Tegnell, the infectious diseases expert at the Board of Health, pointed out that the virus has still only been transmitted from bird to human, and not between humans. For a global pandemic to occur the virus, which is under constant analysis, must first mutate.

“This changes nothing in the fundamental risk assessment,” said Tegnell to TT.

But Health Minister Morgan Johansson agreed that the current Swedish system of purchasing vaccines – where each individual council is a very small player on the world market – must be changed.

“It would be a sensible way to go,” he said.

“Then you are in a much stronger position on the open market. In a situation where we need to increases our buying, it’s clear that we must centralise it.”

The report from the Board of Health will be presented on 1st November and governmental discussions will begin in the middle of the month.

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The Local/TT