European medical experts have met drugs manufacturers to share information on swine flu and to prepare for an anticipated pandemic. A credible vaccine is thought to be at least six months away. The World Health Organisation says it is still too early for the drugs makers to stop producing seasonal medicines, and concentrate on tackling what is now called H1N1-A flu.
“As yet a decision has not been made as to whether to actually start producing it, because the only way you can do that is by stopping producing the seasonal one and until we know more about the severity of the disease that decision can’t be made,” said Professor Angus Nicoll, Head of the Influenza Programme at the ECDC. With the WHO’s alert level at 5, one short of a pandemic, many people are taking no chances and are stocking up on regular medicines. A pharmacy worker in Spain said: “People are coming in asking for two or three boxes of Tamiflu. They want to stockpile it at home just in case. This is useless. It is not a prophylactic. It is a cure for when you already have the flu.” Useless or not, people don’t seem to care, and the drugs are flying off the shelves. The big question is when to ask the manufacturers to switch from seasonal vaccines to H1N1-A drugs. Getting that wrong could mean regular seasonal supplies run low, creating possible further problems down the line.