The British government on Wednesday boosted its readiness for a possible flu pandemic and said it was inviting manufacturers to bid for a contract to supply a vaccine once the pandemic strain is known. Publishing its updated contingency plan, the Department of Health said it would need approximately 120 million doses to be available as soon as possible.
It is widely believed that the most likely development path of a pandemic would be if avian flu in birds mutates into a form that is easily spread from person to person.
Donaldson said that over the next few days the government would put advertisements in European journals inviting manufacturers to bid for so-called "sleeping contracts."
Donaldson said that under current estimates it would take four to six months to produce a vaccine after the strain had been identified.
The government said it also was exploring the use of antivirals. Under current estimates that a flu pandemic would affect 25 percent of the population, the government wants to build its stockpile to 14.6 million courses by September 2006. It currently has 2.5 million courses, and 800,000 are being produced each month. A.M.