Swine flu pandemic will cost State €85m

Sat, Jun 13, 2009, 01:00

THE STATE faces a bill of €85 million arising from the swine flu pandemic.

The board of the Health Service Executive (HSE) was told in a report on Thursday that it would cost about €80 million to purchase a vaccine against the swine flu A(H1N1) virus.

HSE sources said yesterday that some €6 million had already been paid out to manufacturers of a vaccine in “hello money” to secure access to supplies when they become available. This payment would form part of the overall €80 million cost.

In addition, the HSE report says it has committed to paying €4.7 million in other costs associated with dealing with the swine flu pandemic.

It says the HSE has agreed to purchase 1.4 million masks and 75 sets of goggles at a cost of €1.8 million.

The executive has also committed to spending €2.6 million on drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza as well as on swabs.

The report also says that posters, leaflets and adverts advising about swine flu will cost €300,000.

A spokesman for the HSE said yesterday that the Department of Health had agreed to meet the cost of dealing with the pandemic in a supplementary funding provision.

The full cost of dealing with the outbreak is expected to be spread over this year and next year.

Pharmaceutical company Novartis AG said yesterday it expected a vaccine for the virus to be available by the autumn after it produced the first batch for testing ahead of schedule.

The Swiss company said the vaccine would enter clinical trials next month.

A number of pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Solvay, all obtained the influenza A (H1N1) seed virus in recent weeks and aim to have a vaccine ready ahead of the northern hemisphere flu season.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated vaccine-makers could produce up to 4.9 billion pandemic flu shots a year in a best-case scenario.

Minister for Health Mary Harney said on Thursday she was satisfied the health service was prepared to deal with H1N1 swine flu.

This week the WHO raised its pandemic flu alert to phase six on a six-point scale because of growing human-to-human transmission of the virus, which was “not stoppable” but has proved mainly mild.

The H1N1 strain has spread widely after emerging in April in Mexico and the US. There have been 28,774 cases reported in 74 countries, resulting in 144 deaths.

The number of undetected cases is is likely to run into hundreds of thousands.

A total of 12 cases have been diagnosed in Ireland, largely in people who had travelled from the US. All are recovering well.

At a press conference in Government Buildings on Thursday, Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, said it had long been predicted that the WHO would declare the virus a level-six pandemic. The number of cases identified here would dictate the response of the health service.

Dr Holohan said that in the national pandemic plan there were four levels, and it was now at level two, meaning there were a small number of sporadic cases.

“National pandemic plans in recent years have been written very much with H5N1 avian flu in mind and as you know avian flu in humans tends to be more severe and is associated with more significant mortality and morbidity than what we are currently seeing with H1N1.” He added that there was no need to restrict travel.

Prof Bill Hall, chairman of the National Pandemic Influenza Group, said the H1N1 strain was “very clearly a mild respiratory disease” that was similar if not milder than seasonal influenza.