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BBC forces disclosure of swine flu vaccine costs

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Martin Rosenbaum | 13:01 UK time, Friday, 11 February 2011

The Department of Health has been forced to reveal today that it spent £239 million on swine flu vaccine.

Flu vaccine being injected into arm

 

This information has been made public as a result of a freedom of information request by the BBC and an appeal to the information commissioner.

The Department of Health refused to give the information to the BBC when my colleague Julia Ross asked for this data in February last year. The department rejected the FOI application on the grounds that it would breach commercial confidentiality.

We then appealed to the information commissioner, who ruled last month that the total sum paid on obtaining doses of swine flu vaccine should be disclosed.

The commissioner however ruled against the publication of a more detailed breakdown of this spending which we had also asked for.

The department has today complied with this decision and issued an overall figure. It has revealed that it had paid two drug companies £239 million for vaccine doses until the end of deliveries in April 2010. These supplies were for the anticipated swine flu pandemic which failed to materialise.

Most of the money was paid to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for its Pandemrix vaccine, and the remainder to Baxter Healthcare for Celvapan.

The department was left with many unused doses, although some have been used this flu season after stocks of the latest seasonal flu jab proved insufficient.

This case illustrates the limits of commercial confidentiality under FOI. It shows how claims sometimes made by public authorities about possible damage to commercial interests are not necessarily strong enough grounds for refusing freedom of information requests.

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