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    Government prepares for worldwide flu pandemic

    © Pete Souza/White House
    Then-US president Barack Obama is vaccinated in the pandemic of 2009
    © Pete Souza/White House

    Federal health minister Maggie De Block has set aside a budget of two million euros to supply the government with six million flu vaccines in the event of a wordwide flu pandemic similar to that of 2009. The government has signed a framework agreement with two suppliers of vaccines who engage to provide six million vaccines should a pandemic be declared. The vaccines will not be supplied in advance, De Block explained, because they will have to be tailored to the specific characteristics of the virus at the time of the pandemic, which cannot be predicted in advance.

    With a national population of some 11 million, the six million vaccines will certainly be sufficient to vaccinate the groups at higher risk: the elderly, children, anyone with a compromised immune system as a result of another illness or treatment such as chemotherapy, and finally health professionals who are more exposed to those infected than the population as a whole.

    The government agreed on Friday to take part in a Europe-wide public contract for the supply of vaccines in a time of pandemic.

    A pandemic has nothing to do with the typical seasonal epidemic of influenza. As we reported earlier in the week, Belgium is now on the way to an epidemic being declared, as it approaches two consecutive weeks when the number of cases of flu being reported exceed the threshold of 157 cases. The last pandemic lasted from early 2009 to late 2010 and involved the H1N1 strain of the flu virus, the same as had caused the deadly Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which killed 50 to 100 million people. By comparison, and with advances in vaccination and treatment since 1920, the 2009 pandemic was responsible for only 150,000 deaths worldwide.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times