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Bird Flu Vaccine Programme Takes More Time and Funds

Finland's planned vaccination programme to deal with a possible bird flu pandemic has been delayed. The National Public Health Institute has broken off its deal with the Dutch pharmaceuticals company Solvay, because of its inability to deliver the medication on schedule.

The vaccines are considered to be essential, and the Dutch Solvay was expected to prepare enough vaccinations to ensure protection for each person in Finland, in the event of an outbreak.

According to terms of the deal signed 18 months ago, the pharmaceuticals company was to deliver more than 5 million experimental doses of the vaccine, along with the same number of true vaccines, by the end of this year. However, the company has not been able to acquire the new cell cultivation technology needed for production of the vaccine. The Institute now faces the search for a new partner.

During the bird flu scare in 2005, Parliament granted 20 million euros in additional funding for stockpiling the vaccine; those funds are still waiting to be spent.

"We are not sure what the vaccine producer will ask for, but possibly we'd need about 37 million euros," said Rose-Marie Ölander, of the National Public Health Institute.

Many are concerned about the threat of a bird-flu pandemic, although it's been three years since the first cases came to public attention. At the same time, the virus has been detected in over 300 countries and nearly 200 of those infected have died.

"No one can say when a pandemic will start. The risk of a pandemic remains that same as it has been for many years," said Ölander.

Officials at the National Public Health Institute believe that they will find a new supplier in Europe and obtain a stockpile of the vaccine next year.


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