Serbia halts purchases of flu A/H1N1 vaccines

A medical assistant holds up a H1N1 flu vaccine at a hospital in Belgrade December 17, 2009. Serbia on Thursday started a vaccination programme for patients and workers most at risk. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian authorities decided on Tuesday to put on hold purchases of A/H1N1 flu vaccines from Switzerland’s Novartis AG due to a lack of popular response to the government’s vaccination campaign, an official said.

Serbia has already imported about 850,000 doses of vaccines or about 28 percent of a total of 3 million doses agreed with Novartis in November, Tomica Milosavljevic, the health minister, said.

“We will continue with vaccination and we hope that the response will grow ... there are enough vaccines in stock until February when we will reassess situation and decide about more purchases,” Milosavljevic said.

In November, the government in Belgrade, Novartis and its Serbian representative, the Belgrade-based Jugohemija, agreed over a price of 8 euros per dose.

Since December 17, Serbian health authorities have inoculated 133,000 people or about 1.7 percent of the 7.3 million-strong population.

Milosavljevic said a special working group tasked with combating the disease proposed the creation of a permanent stock of flu vaccines of about 300,000 doses.

So far, 68 people in Serbia have died from pandemic flu, while 671 patients tested positive. According to official data, 384 people are hospitalized with severe flu-like symptoms.

The Public Health Institute believes thousands have been infected but with mild symptoms.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by David Holmes