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Pandemic flu drug stockpiles are set to double

29 January 2009

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The UK today awarded contracts to double emergency supplies of flu drugs to treat everyone who is predicted to fall ill in a pandemic, making the UK one of the most prepared countries in the world.

The agreements with Roche and GlaxoSmithKline will double antiviral stockpiles, which are expected to be in place by April 2009. The contracts will deliver an additional 7.6 million treatment courses of Tamiflu (Roche) and 10.6 million treatment courses of Relenza (GlaxoSmithKline). Once the extra capacity is in place, there will be 33.5 million treatment courses of antivirals.

Without antiviral treatment, estimates suggest that up to 750,000 people could die in the UK during a pandemic. Antivirals will play a key role in the clinical response, reducing the severity of the illness and reducing the chance that complications such as pneumonia will set in.

There are currently enough drugs for a quarter of the population, but the latest cross-government pandemic plan aims to cope with the worse-case scenario of an infection rate that could hit up to half the UK population. Today’s contracts announcements are intended to ensure that this number of people can be treated.

Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said: “The UK is already widely recognised as one of the best prepared countries in the world. The increased flu-drug stockpile means that we should be able to treat everyone who falls ill in a pandemic.

“Antivirals are an important part of our robust countermeasure strategy and will ensure we respond effectively in the event of a flu pandemic.”

World Health Organization Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment Dr David Heymann said: “The UK remains among the best prepared countries in the world. Purchasing enough antivirals to treat the worst-case attack rate scenario, and two different antivirals in case resistance develops, is a first-class example of the UK’s advanced planning.”

Department of Health

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