French strike stops vaccine delivery

A strike by French drug company workers prevented the expected arrival on Tuesday of Cayman’s first batch of swine flu H1N1 vaccine.

Staff from drug manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur has been on strike at more than a dozen of the drug manufacturer’s sites throughout France since mid-December. They are demanding higher wages.

Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health at the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority said he was disappointed the strike had led to a failure to deliver the vaccines, which Cayman has been waiting on for several months.

‘Sanofi Pasteur in France told us their warehouse staff were on strike and the vaccine did not go to the airport,’ he said.

‘We knew there was a strike, but we had been told it would not affect the delivery of the H1N1 vaccines,’ Kumar said.

Ten thousand doses of the H1N1 vaccine were supposed to be sent on a flight to London Monday and then onto Cayman on Tuesday morning, but remain in a French warehouse.

Kumar said he estimated that Cayman saw between 5,000 and 6,000 cases of H1N1 last year, with most displaying mild symptoms.

While France, Germany and the UK are reducing their orders for the vaccine due to an over-supply, Kumar said there was still a need for the vaccine in Cayman because the latest confirmed statistics showed people were still contracting the illness.

To date, 129 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed in Cayman, including eight so far this month.

‘Basically, that indicates from 1 December until now, we have had 20 cases confirmed – 12 in December and eight this month. That is an indication that H1N1 activity is still going on.’

Only a limited number of cases are confirmed by samples sent to CAREC, the Caribbean’s regional laboratory. The samples are sent to determine if the virus is mutating, rather than to keep track of the number of cases reported.

Any influenza cases that had flu symptoms and a fever were considered to be and treated as H1N1, with doctors administering Tamiflu to those with severe symptoms or with underlying medical conditions.

Health Services Authority data shows there were 7,200 cases of flu in Cayman in 2009, an increase of approximately 3,000 cases on 2008.

Kumar said he had briefed staff on Tuesday morning about the schedule for disseminating the vaccinations among various high-risk groups in Cayman, but learned that afternoon that the vaccines had never left France.

Kumar said that while there were other sources for the vaccine available, it would take about two weeks for another manufacturer to organise delivery to the Cayman Islands.

‘If the strike ends, we can get delivery within a day or two, so we will wait and see,’ he said.

According to French media reports, workers at Sanofi Pasteur were angry at a 1.8 per cent pay increase they received last year after the company cited low profits. After Sanofi Pasteur’s profits doubled, staff was offered a 1.2 per cent increase which infuriated them.

Workers have occupied and blockaded parts of several of the company’s sites with pickets being manned 24 hours a day.