Socialist Worker

Big business is profiteering from the flu pandemic

Issue No. 2162

Competing for vaccine

The world’s richest and poorest states are competing to buy stocks of a potential swine flu vaccine.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the world’s laboratories may only be able to produce 900 million doses of vaccine for the A(H1N1) strain (swine flu) per year, for a planet that is home to 6.8 billion people.

WHO director Margaret Chan said last week, “The lion’s share of these limited supplies will go to wealthy countries. Again we see the advantage of affluence. Again we see access denied by an inability to pay.”

Drug company profits

British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is charging the British government £6 a dose for a swine flu vaccine which costs just £1 to produce.

GSK, the world’s second largest pharmaceutical company, is set to reap billions from the pandemic. This week it announced profits of £2.1 billion for the past three months. Sales of vaccines and anti-viral drugs could push the figure up even higher.

It has so far sold £60 million worth of its anti-viral flu treatment Relenza. The drug reduces the length and severity of the disease and is recommended for pregnant women with swine flu.

GSK chief executive Andrew Witty describes the swine flu crisis as a “significant financial event for the company”. The company’s share price increased on the stock exchange over the course of last week.

Drugs giant, Roche, the makers of Tamiflu, reported a 13 percent increase in profits since April, with sales of Tamiflu expected to triple.

Poor areas are ‘hot spots’

Swine flu “hot spots” are concentrated in Britain’s poorest areas. Tower Hamlets in east London has the highest consultation rate for swine flu symptoms in England.

The London boroughs of Islington, Lewisham, Greenwich, Hackney, Barking and Dagenham & Redbridge all make the top ten. Prosperous Richmond has the lowest rate in the capital.

A GP in Tower Hamlets told Socialist Worker that London is the worst hit in England “because it’s a global communications centre”.

Tower Hamlets is worst hit in London “because of overcrowding. Its population is young with high numbers of children and it is schools where the disease is largely spread.”

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Tue 28 Jul 2009, 18:56 BST
Issue No. 2162
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