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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 15:17 GMT
Bird flu vaccine 'fast-tracked'
Image of a chicken
The virus is contracted through close contact to poultry
International health ministers have agreed moves to speed up production of a pandemic flu vaccine.

Countries will share information and expertise to fast-track development and production and will make sure supplies meet demand, they said.

UK health minister Rosie Winterton attended the Rome meeting.

The UK has already pledged to supply vaccines for the nation once the strain is known, as well as stockpiling the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

There is not yet a definitive vaccine, but prototypes which offer protection against the H5N1 strain are being produced.

There have been concerns that production facilities will be not able to meet demand for pandemic flu vaccines, which will be needed for millions of people at short notice.

We have agreed to share information and expertise
Ms Winterton

There are also fears that the world's poorest nations will not be able to afford to buy vaccines and antiviral drugs.

The biggest unknown is how bad it is all going to be. The UK government is working with a range of outcomes from under 20,000 deaths up to 750,000.

At the meeting of the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI), the ministers, including those from Canada, the US, France, Germany, Japan and Mexico also agreed to work with the World Health Organization to develop and test methods for early containment of a flu outbreak.

Ms Winterton said: "We have agreed a programme of action to ensure that national pandemic planning continues to dovetail with international planning and that we communicate effectively both nationally and internationally.

"We recognised the importance of ensuring our populations and healthcare professionals have the high quality, consistent international information they need to manage the consequences of an outbreak of pandemic flu.

"And, most importantly, we have agreed to share information and expertise to speed up the development and production of a pandemic flu vaccine.

"We have also agreed to work together to boost global capacity for pandemic flu vaccine."


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