Sunday 22 July 2018

Urgent hearing over 6in1 vaccine contract

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Tim Healy

The Health Services Executive (HSE) has got an urgent hearing later this month of its bid to lift the automatic suspension of a contract for supply of the "critical" 6in1 vaccines after expressing anxiety about the need to ensure future supplies.

The HSE's decision last January to award the five year contract to GlaxoSmithKline was automatically suspended by the issuing on February 2of legal proceedings by an unsuccessful tenderer, Sanofi Aventis Ireland Ltd, trading as Sanofi Pasteur.

In seeking to have the suspension lifted, the HSE said, in documents put before the Commercial Court on Monday, the implications of any disruption in the supply of the vaccine would be "extremely serious", including increased risk of the diseases currently preventable by the vaccine.

For reasons including an ongoing shortage in the pertussis (whooping cough) and Hepatitis B components of the vaccine, it is "vital" to have lengthy forecasts for orders of the vaccines, Dr Brenda Corcoran of the National Immunisation Office said in a sworn statement. 

Supplies of the vaccine available under the current contract will be exhausted by the end of January 2018 and a reasonable estimate of the lead in time for production of vaccines ordered under the new contract will be 12 months, she said.

If new supplies are not ordered by March 1 2018, there will "simply be no guarantee of supply". 

The HSE says the estimated value of the new contract, based on the purchase costs to the HSE, is between €22m-28m, less VAT, based on an estimated number of doses of the vaccine. The HSE said it does not know the actual costs to the manufacturer.

In order to ensure future supply of these "critical" vaccines, Catherine Donnelly BL, for the HSE, said it wanted an urgent hearing date of February 23 for its application to lift the automatic suspension of the contract.

While Sanofi pointed to the HSE having indicated there would be some leeway of a month or so, the HSE maintained, unless supplies were ordered by March 1 next, there would be no guarantee of supply, counsel said.

Joe Jeffers BL, for Sanofi, urged the court to give his side until February 27, saying the proposed timescale was very tight.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern agreed the matter was urgent and fixed the hearing of the application for February 23 as sought by the HSE. The parties will just have to be ready for hearing, he remarked.

The contract is for supply, over about five years, of about one million doses of the 6in1 vaccine, which relates to Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis, Hepatits B, Inactivated Polio Vaccine and Hameophilus Infuenza Type B.

In its challenge over the award of the contract to GSK, Sanofi alleges the HSE failed to comply with various EC Directives and regulations governing the award of public supply contracts.

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