First swine flu vaccines  in Portugal next week

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Portugal’s Ministry of Health is keeping the location of the first batches of the flu vaccine, Pandemrix, effective against the A (H1N1) virus, cloaked in secrecy.

The only announcement that it has made about the swine flu vaccine is that from October 26 the first doses will be administered to those on the government’s risk list: health workers, patients with chronic conditions and pregnant women.

The first batch of 46,000 doses is rumoured to arrive this week in a plain refrigerated lorry from Belgium, where the vaccine is produced at Rixensart and stored at GlaxoSmithKline warehouses outside Brussels.

But the government is refusing to state where the vaccines will be kept and how they will be distributed.

After their arrival, somewhere in Greater Lisbon, batches will be distributed to the four other regional health administrations (ARS) at Porto, Coimbra, Évora and Faro and from there they will be delivered to hospitals, health centres and other health institutions.

Portugal is known to have ordered six million doses in total which should be sufficient to vaccinate two-thirds of the population.

However, the vaccine, which has not been tested on pregnant women, has caused some controversy in countries like the United Kingdom regarding its safety.

Pandemrix, which so far will make up 100 per cent of the Portuguese SNS supply, contains a chemical called an adjuvant that has never been tested on pregnant women either in Portugal or elsewhere.

According to the World Health Organisation Strategic Advisory Group, mums-to-be should be given the adjuvant-free vaccine Celvapan, as is the case in Canada.

Even so, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline insists that Pandemrix is safe, while the government in Portugal states that it is licensed for pregnant women based on clinical trials on healthy adults in Europe.

Constantino Sakellarides, Director of the National Public Health School, believes that the benefits of taking the vaccine, however, far outweigh the possible risks.

According to the latest Ministry of Health figures, 17,000 people have gone down with one form or another of flu, including (A) H1N1 and seasonal flu since the pandemic began.

There have been three registered deaths in Portugal as a result of the virus.

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