The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has agreed a deal for millions of life-saving vaccines to be produced in the UK if a future influenza pandemic is ever declared.
The advance purchase agreement (APA) means healthcare company CSL Seqirus will be on standby to produce over 100 million influenza pandemic vaccines if or when they are needed.
UKHSA and its predecessor organisations have had similar agreements in the past, but this is the first time the manufacturing process will be based entirely in the UK, giving better security of access if global demand ever outweighs supply.
The vaccines will be tested, licensed, and approved and tailored to combat the specific pandemic flu strain identified at the time.
They will be produced at CSL Seqirus’s existing manufacturing plant in Liverpool in the event a pandemic is declared by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said: “We have seen from past pandemic events, including COVID-19, that access to effective vaccines is vital to help save lives and minimise disruption to our lives and livelihoods.
“This agreement represents a major step forward in our preparedness against future influenza pandemics.
“Manufacturing these potentially life-saving vaccines inside the UK gives us speedier and more secure access, enabling us to roll them out to those who need them more quickly.”
Vaccines Minister, Maria Caulfield said: “This deal with CSL Seqirus places us on the front foot if we are faced with an influenza pandemic in the future.
“It will ensure vaccines are manufactured in the UK – enabling us to get jabs into arms fast regardless of global demand and save thousands of lives.”
Marc Lacey, Global Executive Director at CSL Seqirus, said: “CSL Seqirus is a global leader in pandemic influenza preparedness, and we’re pleased the UK government will continue to partner with us in preparing to provide protection against the potential of a flu pandemic.
“This agreement will help to ensure the UK maintains robust preparedness and rapid response capabilities for this potential future threat.”
Pandemic influenza is not the same as seasonal influenza or avian influenza. Seasonal influenza circulates every year and causes thousands of deaths, though it generally causes milder illness among healthy adults because of existing immunity. Avian influenza, meanwhile, cannot be passed from human to human.
A new influenza strain that was detected globally and was transmitting from person to person, against which we would have no immunity, could be categorised by WHO as the cause of a global influenza pandemic.
Although influenza pandemics are highly unpredictable in terms of their timing, duration and severity, historic events show that they can occur at any time.
There have been 4 influenza pandemics over the past 100 years, arising in 1918, 1957, 1968 and 2009. The 1918 pandemic was responsible for over 50 million deaths worldwide, and pandemic influenza continues to be a major health security concern.