EU pandemic planning insufficient
16 Ottobre 2007
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that the European Union is inadequately prepared for a pandemic influenza outbreak.
Although almost all countries included in the analysis carried out at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had plans for pandemic vaccination, the time needed for vaccination
development and manufacturing capacity mean that demand will outstrip supply.
In addition, the report criticises the fact that only half of the countries evaluated had drawn up a detailed plan for storage, provision and distribution mechanisms for vaccines. The same
applies to antiviral drugs: Generally, authorities do not seem to have taken into consideration how the drugs should be delivered to individual patients, or which basic medical supplies would
be needed for administering them.
‘In the event of pandemic, initial demand for antivirals may outstrip the medical community’s ability to administer them,’ the author of the study, Richard Coker from the London School of
Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warns. ‘Although many countries in Europe have stockpiles, rigorously thought through plans for storage, distribution and administration are now an urgent
requirement, as panic and ultimately chaos will result unless the operational procedures are defined and tested in advance of an pandemic.’
A similar assessment was carried out on behalf of the WHO a year ago. The situation has improved since then, the study suggests. Still, ‘many nations remain ill prepared for the on-the-ground
realities of an imminent flu pandemic,’ Dr Coker says. ‘Critically, the who, what, when and where is not defined for antiviral medications which are the first line of defence before vaccine
supplies can be manufactured and distributed.’
‘Governments need to work with their neighbours, sharing best practices and strategic thinking openly,’ Dr Coker adds. ‘The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) might have
successfully established pan-European surveillance procedures but the current significant differences in countries’ pandemic plans are likely to test any notion of global solidarity or
Experts agree that there is bound to be another flu pandemic sooner or later. According to recent WHO estimates, the death toll worldwide could be as high as 7.4 million people. Some fear that
the next flu type to ‘go global’ might be a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1), for which person-to-person transmission has only recently been confirmed.
Recent reports published by the ECDC indicate that so called ‘pre-pandemic vaccines’ might offer some protection against a future influenza pandemic. They are currently being developed on the
basis of H5N1. ‘The consensus in our expert groups was that widespread vaccination of people in EU countries would not, at present, be advisable,’ Zsuzsanna Jakab, Director of ECDC, says,
specifying that the vaccine should be deployed in a later phase of a pandemic.
The study evaluated national plans for pandemic preparedness from 25 EU countries. In addition, Bulgaria and Romania ( accession countries at the time of the analysis) and three non
EU-countries that border the EU (Norway, Switzerland and Turkey) were included.