ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece will vaccinate its entire population of 12 million against the H1N1 swine flu pandemic which has swept around the world in weeks, killing hundreds of people, the country’s health minister said on Friday.
The Mediterranean country, which receives about 15 million tourists every year, has confirmed more than 700 swine flu cases and no deaths, but world health experts say the true number of cases globally is far higher as only a few patients get tested.
« We decided that the entire population, all citizens and residents, without any exception, will be vaccinated against the flu, » Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said after a ministerial meeting.
Greece has already earmarked 40 million euros for vaccines and has placed orders with Novartis, Glaxo and Sanofi for 8 million vaccine doses, to be received gradually by January.
Vaccine experts say people will likely need two doses of vaccine to be protected from H1N1 swine flu, so Greece would need a total of 24 million doses to vaccinate its entire population. Other countries are taking similar steps.
« Greece will order 16 million more doses from the same companies in the future, » a health ministry official who declined to be named told Reuters. « We are only waiting for the European Union’s approval to start vaccinating everyone. »
The European Medicines Agency has begun reviewing pandemic flu vaccines under development, aiming to get them approved before the flu season starts, sometime in September.
The health ministry official said children, the elderly and ailing would be the first to be vaccinated.
About 800 people have died worldwide since the outbreak of the flu in April.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Jon Boyle)