January 11, 2010 / 11:48 PM / 9 years ago

Countries re-think swine flu vaccine orders

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday it had cut in half its order for H1N1 flu vaccine from Australia’s CSL Ltd, but said it is not certain how far orders from other suppliers will be trimmed.

A nurse holds up a vial of H1N1 flu vaccine prior to an inoculation at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania October 28, 2009. REUTERS/Brad Bower

While U.S. officials are still calculating how much swine flu vaccine they will need, it is becoming increasingly clear that the United States will not need all 251 million doses it ordered from five companies.

CSL said the U.S. government was halving its order for H1N1 vaccines, partly because the company had diverted some of its early output to the Australian government and would not be able to deliver its full $180 million U.S. contract.

Several other governments have started to cut orders for H1N1 vaccines because the pandemic has not turned out to be as deadly as originally feared and most people need only one dose, not two, to be fully protected.

Original orders for flu vaccine were placed in May, June and July, when it was not known what dose would be needed and it was not clear how severe the pandemic would be.

Different manufacturers have different contracts with governments. Some contain break clauses allowing customers to reduce the size of orders.

Germany’s Bild newspaper reported that the German government had agreed to cut its vaccine order with GlaxoSmithKline Plc by one-third.

The newspaper said the agreement would save states about 133 million euros ($193 million). On Friday, Britain said it was in talks with Glaxo about reducing supplies.

Sanofi-Aventis, the largest supplier of flu vaccine to the U.S. market, said it was meeting all its U.S. contracts for sales of swine flu vaccine.

Bill Hall, a spokesman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, said U.S. officials were talking with companies about how much to cut orders.

“All the contracts that were put in place were designed to be flexible,” Hall said in a telephone interview.

“There is a balancing act to ensuring we have enough vaccine for the population to meet the demand.”

The United States has received 136 million doses of H1N1 vaccine from its five suppliers — CSL, Glaxo, Sanofi, AstraZeneca unit MedImmune and Novartis, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 60 million people have been vaccinated.

While the pandemic is slowing down in North America, the World Health Organization said on Monday the virus was still active in parts of central, eastern and southeastern Europe, North Africa and South Asia.

Governments are torn between trying to encourage companies to make influenza vaccine and wasting money on doses that are never given. But bulk antigen — the vaccine before it is put into a syringe — can be stored and might be used in next year’s seasonal vaccine.

The U.S. government was still promoting vaccination, reminding people that influenza is unpredictable and that H1N1 could come back in a third wave.

One potentially large market for the vaccine is children. Children under 10 need two doses of vaccine to be fully protected and some U.S. school districts were planning more vaccination clinics this week to get children a second dose.

Retailers such as Wal-Mart, drug stores and supermarkets were also offering H1N1 vaccine clinics.

With reporting by Ben Hirschler in London, Michael Perry in Sydney, Ludwig Burger and Frank Siebelt in Frankfurt, editing by Anthony Boadle

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