With the new influenza season underway, MEPs have criticised the EU's "disproportionate" response to the outbreak of the H1N1 ("swine flu") virus in 2009-2010. The resolution adopted in the Public Health Committee today considers the expense of vaccination programmes and relative risks that were faced. It also recommends action for the future, including group purchasing of vaccines and more safeguards against conflicts of interest.
H1N1 had caused 2,900 deaths in Europe by April 2010, which compares with 40,000 for seasonal flu in a moderate year.
The resolution drafted by Michèle Rivasi (Greens/EFA, FR) was adopted with 58 votes for, 2 against, and 1 abstention. She commented that "this report is an important attempt to highlight the concerns that have been raised about the disproportionate response to the swine flu in Europe, as well as the potential influence of pharmaceutical companies in response processes."
EU Member States' responses ranged from wholesale vaccination programmes to none at all (in the case of Poland). Billions of Euro were spent in total. Pointing to the need to reassess vaccination strategies, the Environment and Public Health Committee also suggests that better cooperation (e.g. group purchases of vaccines) will be necessary in future.
MEPs call for further safeguards to prevent potential conflicts of interest. Names of experts who advise European health authorities should be published. Following cases where this was not done, the report furthermore underlines that under EU legislation, full liability for vaccines must remain with the manufacturer, not with Member States.
WHO and EU
The resolution calls on the World Health Organisation to review its definition of a "pandemic" to consider the severity of an illness, and not only the spread of a virus. To ensure the EU's own risk assessment capacity, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control should be given the support necessary to assess risks independently, as well as perform its other tasks, say MEPs.