7 Jul 2009

NZ first to acquire new swine flu vaccine

6:21 am on 7 July 2009

New Zealand has become the first country to acquire a new unlicensed vaccine to protect frontline health workers against swine flu.

It is the first time any country has bought the vaccine and the first time this type of vaccine has been used in New Zealand.

The Government has bought 300,000 doses of the vaccine from Baxter Healthcare, enough to vaccinate 150,000 health and emergency workers. The company has operated in New Zealand for 30 years.

The vaccine will be in the country within the month, but will not be made available until clinical trials are completed.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says the new vaccine should be available from December this year once it has been licensed by drug authority Medsafe. He says the vaccine is an "insurance policy" as flu continues to spread.

The Government says it is not looking to launch a mass vaccination programme at this stage, as the nature of the illness does not warrant it.

Mr Ryall told Checkpoint on Monday is a huge international demand for swine flu vaccines and New Zealand is exercising its right under a number of arrangements.

By not ordering the vaccine early, New Zealand risks missing out on securing a supply, he says. The Government has also secured a supply of vaccines from an Australian drug company.

Mr Ryall is refusing to disclose how much the vaccine will cost, saying it is commercially sensitive.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health is bringing in extra nurses to staff its free telephone service to cope with an increasing number of callers concerned about swine flu. The healthline number is: 0800 611 116.

The total number of confirmed swine flu cases in New Zealand has reached 1059, compared with 961 on Sunday.

The number of cases is likely to be under-estimated since routine testing for swine flu is no longer being done.

Wait for vaccine licensing, says doctors' union

A representative of junior doctors is worried by a suggestion that the vaccine could be offered to health and emergency workers before it was licensed.

Health Minster Tony Ryall says it is possible some health workers could be allowed to take it before a decision is made about the vaccine's licensing in December.

Deborah Powell of the Resident Doctors' Association says it is unlikely doctors would want to take a vaccine that has not been properly tested.

Coroner investigates more deaths

At least three more deaths are being investigated to see whether they are linked to swine flu, the Chief Coroner says.

The deaths of three people since 28 June have been linked to swine flu - those of Hamilton man Zachary Wilson, 19, a Christchurch man and a young girl in Wellington.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean says at least three more cases are under investigation, where people displayed flu-like symptoms before they died.

Judge MacLean says it has been routine procedure for several weeks now to examine any such cases for the H1N1 virus and it will not be known until later this week whether the virus was involved.

Canterbury District Health Board on Monday released a statement from the family of the 42-year-old Christchurch man saying he died at home last Thursday and had suffered from a respiratory disease.

The family says they are deeply saddened by the death of their son and father, who had been unwell for some time. They have asked for privacy while they grieve.

Four people with swine flu remain in intensive care units around the country while a 17-year-old woman in Wellington Hospital, who was critical, is now in serious but stable condition.

A 30-year-old woman remains in intensive care in Wellington hospital, two people are in critical condition in Auckland Hospital's intensive care unit and a woman in her early 20s is in Hawke's Bay Regional Hospital's intensive care unit.