EU debates sharing of swine flu vaccine


Luxembourg : European Union health ministers met in Luxembourg Monday to debate sharing national stockpiles of vaccines against swine flu with countries which are not so well prepared for the pandemic.

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Around a dozen of the EU’s 27 member states are short of vaccines, and “we will try today to give the European Commission the right to help them”, Sweden’s Health Minister Maria Larsson said as she arrived at the meeting.

Ministers were also to debate whether they should share vaccine stocks with developing countries outside Europe, Larsson said.

Larsson was set to chair the extraordinary meeting, since Sweden currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. The European Commission is the bloc’s executive and coordinates EU-wide health measures.

EU health ministers last held an emergency meeting on the outbreak of swine flu in April. That meeting was held amidst fears that the human version of the disease then emerging in Mexico could sweep across Europe with devastating consequences.

At that meeting, ministers agreed for the first time that they could share stocks of medicine if one country was particularly hard hit. During earlier public-health scares over bird flu and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), they had refused to do so.

Since April, however, public fear of a massive flu outbreak has eased with the fast-track development of two vaccines and the revelation that most of the victims of the disease quickly recover.

EU countries are now keen to spread the vaccines as widely as possible in a bid to make sure that the disease never manages to get a grip on the population.

The pandemic “hasn’t hurt us as much as we thought, but we hope people will still want to have the vaccines… Experts have told us the pandemic will continue for some years,” Larsson said.

“If you protect yourself, that will be protection not just for the current situation and the nearest months, but the nearest years,” she said.