Swine flu vaccine contracts 'should have had break clauses'

2 July 2010

2 July 2010 | Angeline Albert

Contracts negotiated by the UK government for a swine flu vaccine failed to include get-out clauses, resulting in the government accepting delivery this year of 35 million doses that are surplus to requirements.

According to an independent review which was led by Dame Deirdre Hine, former Welsh chief medical officer, the government had agreed break clauses in contracts with one supplier, Baxter Healthcare, but not with another, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

In July 2007, the government agreed two advance-purchase agreement contracts with the two suppliers for delivering vaccine through a tender process, reducing some risk in security of supply by having two differing technologies. By the end of that month, the two companies were contracted to supply a total of 132 million doses.

However, the swine flu pandemic, which emerged in 2009, was not as bad as feared. Although 457 people died in the UK and hundreds of thousands fell ill, not all the requested medicines were used. Approximately 400,000 vaccines were administered in England during 2009-10.

GSK refused requests for the contract to be cancelled, and the Department of Health reached agreement with GSK on 6 April 2010 to take deliveries of just under 35 million doses of Pandemrix.

The other manufacturer, Baxter, had agreed to a break clause allowing the government to cancel its order.

The report said: “Initially there were no break clauses within the advance-purchase agreements, although a break clause was negotiated with Baxter Healthcare at the point of contract amendment in 2009 – immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic”.

The report said: “The Department of Health should negotiate advance-purchase agreements that allow flexibility over the eventual quantities purchased”.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “The government will take these recommendations into consideration in planning for the future to ensure that we remain one of the best prepared countries in the world for any future pandemics."

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