A special meeting of EU health ministers next month will consider the possibility of member states sharing vaccines to protect against the H1N1 virus.

The meeting of ministers, at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) on October 12, is expected to adopt conclusions on a common EU strategy and consider solidarity mechanisms for dealing with the virus, which the Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection (DG SANCO) is expecting to infect 30% of people in the EU.

Sweden, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU until December, has been pressing for common procurement of vaccines for the Community, given fears that a major outbreak could jeopardize the region’s prospects for economy recovery. However, observers forecast strong opposition to this proposal from those member states which have ordered significant quantities of vaccine for their populations.

Jo Leinen, the German MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee said last week that the amounts of vaccine already ordered by member state governments vary in quantity, and that this might create problems in the autumn, when the virus is expected to really hit home.

A priority for the ministers will be how to devise a system of transferring vaccines between EU states, said Mr Leinin, adding: “we’d like to see a solidarity mechanism put in place between the 27 member states because it may well be that the vaccine isn’t available in equal amounts across the EU.”

Late last month, the EU Health Security Committee and the Early Warning and Response authority adopted proposals by the Commission which outline a shared approach towards identifying target and priority groups for H1N1 vaccination. Given that it is unlikely that the vaccine will be immediately available for all target groups at the same time, it says, the first priority groups for vaccination should be: - anyone aged from six months with underlying chronic conditions such as chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and those with congenital or acquired immunodeficiency, starting with those who have the most severe symptoms- - pregnant women; and – health care workers.

However, last week, Mr Leinen also expressed concern that access to vaccination for the most vulnerable will be delayed. “The H1N1 vaccine won’t be ready until the beginning of October for those who are healthy, and then only in December for vulnerable groups,” he said, according to a Euractiv report.