Czech Republic will not buy flu vaccine without license

The Czech health authorities on Thursday announced that after carefully assessing the risks presented by a possible swine flu epidemic, they would await the outcome of clinical tests before acquiring a flu vaccine for the country’s high risk groups. While many specialists approve, some are calling the decision irresponsible.

Dana Jurásková,  photo: CTK
Although the number of people diagnosed with swine flu has now risen to 162 and the flu vaccine is actually being produced here in the Czech Republic by the pharmaceutical company Baxter, the Czech health authorities have refused the company’s purchase offer, saying that the risks presented do not merit the use of a vaccine that has not been clinically tested. Health Minister Dana Jurásková said the Czech Republic would not acquire a vaccine without a license, even if it meant a delay of several months.

“It has been decided that the Czech Republic will wait for vaccine with a European registration, which provides a guarantee of safety and minimal side-effects.”

Michael Vít  (in the center),  photo: CTK
The minister’s decision was fully backed by the country’s Chief Hygiene Officer Michael Vít, who pointed out that all the infected Czechs had contracted a light form of the disease and no one had died of it. The wait for a license, which countries in a more serious plight such as the US and Great Britain have chosen to forego, will mean a delay of up to four months in vaccinating the county’s high risk groups. Some specialists are now questioning the wisdom of that decision, saying that with the start of the school year and the onset of the regular flu season in the fall, the country could face an epidemic long before it had acquired the vaccine. While the Czech Association of Patients says it understands the decision to wait for a license, it feels that production capacities should have been reserved much earlier on. The head of the association Luboš Olejár slammed the ministry for poor planning.

“I’d say that the ministry is acting in the usual Schweik-like manner, much as the Czechs ran the EU presidency. They first assured us production capacities had been reserved, now it seems they haven’t. Baxter’s not taking any more orders for this year and even though the ministry has promised to sign contracts with Novartis and GlaxoSmith Cline it is not clear when the vaccines will available, or whether chronically ill patients will get them in the first wave of vaccinations. We intend to put more pressure on the ministry, to get some answers and let them know that patients care.”

The ministry, for its part, has advised Czechs not to panic, since the number of cases in the Czech Republic is still comparatively low. Billboards have appeared in Prague instructing people to take basic precautions and make sure they get a regular flu shot in the autumn, which the authorities claim should mitigate the effects of a possible bout of the swine flu. Asked what would happen in the event of a crisis, the country’s chief hygiene officer said that measures would be taken “on the go” as circumstances require.