“Diet, injections, and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible.”
“Gradually, by selective breeding, the congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase until they become almost different species. A revolt of the plebs would become as unthinkable as an organized insurrection of sheep against the practice of eating mutton.”
– Bertrand Russell, “The Impact of Science on Society”, 1953
by Mark Henderson
The emergency stockpile of flu drugs will be doubled in Britain so that half of the population is covered in the event of a pandemic, Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, announced yesterday.
An extra 15 million doses of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that is the main defence against a pandemic, will be ordered at an anticipated cost of about £150 million, after ministers accepted that supplies are too low to ensure that the maximum number of lives are saved.
The new pandemic plan, details of which were first revealed by The Times, will allow the Government to give the drug preventively to families of infected people, which according to scientists is the best way to contain the virus. The existing stockpile, which has 14.6 million doses, is sufficient only for treating patients. Britain will now have comparable stockpiles to France and Australia and double the stores held by Germany and the United States.
Without intervention it is predicted that a flu pandemic could infect up to half of the population of Britain and kill up to 750,000 people, although a lower figure of between 150,000 and 375,000 deaths is more likely. While it is impossible to predict when such a pandemic might arise, they have occurred previously at intervals of between 10 and 40 years. The last one struck in 1968. The emergence of the H5N1 avian flu virus, that has infected 335 people and killed 206 since 2003, has also raised the risk.
The revised plan includes an order of 14.7 million doses of antibiotics to treat complications of flu, such as pneumonia. The Government will also buy 350 million surgical masks and 34 million disposable respirators for NHS and social care staff.
Ministers have already agreed to contracts worth £155.4 million with Baxter and GlaxoSmithKline to provide enough pandemic flu vaccine to cover the whole population. This would not be available for six to eight months after the start of a pandemic because it has to be matched to the right strain of flu, but it would help to contain a second wave. Another 3.3 million doses of the prepandemic vaccine, matched to the existing H5N1 virus, are available for key workers.
Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, said that there was not yet enough evidence to order supplies for everybody, but that he would keep this under review.
Mr Johnson said: “The threat of an influenza pandemic remains real. Whilst it is not possible to predict its timing or severity, the top priority for the Government is to do all we possibly can to protect the public.”
The core of the new plan is the larger Tamiflu stockpile, which was agreed by health ministers in April but has been announced only since funding was made available in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Mr Johnson would not say how much had been set aside for the order because a deal has yet to be struck with Roche, the manufacturer, but the existing stockpile cost about £150 million.
A supply of 30 million doses means that there will be enough of the drug to treat everybody who contracts pandemic flu, even in the worst case scenario of a 50 per cent infection rate. If the infection rate is lower, as scientists predict, it would also allow “household prophylaxis”, by which the families of infected people are also given Tamiflu.
Research led by Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, London, has shown that this would be the best way of containing a pandemic, reducing cases and deaths by 40 to 50 per cent. Professor Ferguson said: “I am particularly pleased that the Government has adopted the advice of the scientific community to increase our antiviral drug stockpile. Careful thought now needs to be given as to how to best use – and deliver – this stockpile in the event of a pandemic.”
During a pandemic, patients would gain access to Tamiflu by calling a national flu line, through which doctors would assess their symptoms. The drugs would be collected by a friend or relative. Some flu experts said that improving this system was a greater priority than buying extra drugs.
Professor Graeme Laver, formerly of the Australian National University in Canberra, said: “Instead of stockpiling more Tamiflu, the UK Government would be better off devising a more effective procedure to get Tamiflu to people who fall ill very quickly.”
The Royal Society also questioned the reliance on a single antiviral drug. A spokesman said: “We still believe that there are risks involved in relying on just one antiviral and feel the Government should remain open to the possible need to stock alternatives.”