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Two-thirds of swine flu vaccines remain unused in NI

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland still has half a million swine flu vaccines which remain unused.

In mid-January, there were more than 60% of the vaccines left. The health minister had estimated he would need £61m to combat the virus in NI.

But a member of the British Medical Association said it was better to have too many than too few vaccines.

Dr Tom Black said swine flu no longer posed a threat - therefore, lives have been saved.

"I think it is better to have vaccine left over than to be left short," he said.

"If we had needed to vaccinate the whole population then we would have needed a lot more vaccine.

"This was the fourth pandemic influenza outbreak in the last century. The previous three killed millions of people. I think we did very well with this one."

There have been 18 deaths related to swine flu in Northern Ireland.

There are still about 500,000 doses of the vaccine which have not been used. The majority of those are still held centrally and not distributed to surgeries.

To date 751,200 vaccines have been received by the health service in Northern Ireland and 252,182 have been administered.

There are currently 334,600 vaccines held centrally with the balance being held by health trusts and GPs.

The health minister has insisted that all decisions related to the virus were taken after scientific advice.

Michael McGimpsey agreed with fellow executive ministers in December that he would need £61m to combat the threat of the virus.

It is understood that figure is being re-evaluated and an updated bid will be supplied to the Department of Finance in February.

Review

The evaluation comes as health chiefs around the world assess their reaction to the global outbreak.

The death rate from those suffering from the virus in the UK was low, at 0.026%. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people are thought to have been infected but not displayed any symptoms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already announced it will review its handling of the pandemic.

Council of Europe Health Committee Chairman Dr Wolfgang Wodarg has been one of the most vocal critics.

He has said experts have been unduly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, and questioned whether a virus that proved to be so mild could really be classed as a pandemic.

However Mr McGimpsey pointed to the fact that the WHO had called Dr Wodarg's comments "irresponsible" as well as "scientifically wrong and historically inaccurate" and said his department's response was guided by the "best scientific advice available in the UK".

He added that his department is unable to divulge how much it paid for the vaccines as it would "violate confidentiality clauses in the contracts with the manufacturers."