60 million people need swine flu vaccine, Brussels warns
Sixty million Europeans will need priority vaccination against swine flu, EU health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has said, warning that "there won't be vaccinations for everyone."
Speaking to Portuguese news agency Lusa after her visit to a health centre by the Portuguese town of Estoril, the Cypriot commissioner pointed out that the number of people across the EU most at risk from the new type of flu, A (H1N1), had been estimated at 60 million by Brussels' experts, according to AFP.
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Health ministers from the 27 member states are due to meet in October to decide on the practical details of the vaccination programme against swine flu which has infected almost 95,000 people in 136 countries since April, according to official figures by World Health Organisation published on 6 July.
Although the new virus has most lead to less severe health problems than ordinary flu, the WHO has reported 429 deaths from the disease.
Flu vaccine manufacturers increased production of seasonal flu vaccines in June and intend to produce a vaccine against the pandemic H1N1 flu virus, Reuters reported.
So far, the virus remains relatively mild. But experts fear it could mutate to become much strong during winter, the main flu season in Europe.
This may result in a fight between member states for vaccines. Germany, France and the UK have already ordered billions of euros worth of vaccine stockpiles.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Sunday (19 July) said there were 16,095 confirmed cases in the EU and Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland.
Britain has recorded the highest rate at over 10,600. Spain is next with 1,309 while Lithuania is at the bottom of the scale with seven confirmed cases. It is not clear why there are such discrepancies between countries or why Britain is being hit to hard, having recorded 29 deaths by the flu. Spain, with four deaths, is the only other country of the 30 included in the ECDC figures recording fatalities.
The varying figures have also meant different response around the EU. The European Commission has been pushing member states to cooperate and pool resources so that least prepared member states are also covered.
This is meeting resistance in countries such as Britain, which considers itself well prepared.
The differences in approach can also be seen when it comes to season flu. Earlier this month, Brussels said national capitals should report annually on vaccination coverage and increase vaccination and vaccine production for ordinary flu.
It suggested that by 2010 some 75 percent of people over 65 and three quarters of people with underlying health problems, such as diabetes and asthma, should be vaccinated annually.
The two specific groups are considered as the most vulnerable against seasonal flu, which results in an estimated 40,000 to 200,000 deaths each year in the EU.
Vaccination rates in the elderly vary across the bloc. While Netherlands has 80 percent coverage, Lithuania comes in at the other end of the scale with only 2 percent of the elderly covered, according to commission figures.