AMSTERDAM, March 1 (Reuters) The Dutch government signed a contract to buy 16 million flu vaccines from Belgian drug and chemicals maker Solvay in case of a pandemic, the health ministry said today.
''With this contract the health ministry guarantees quick supply of vaccines for the whole of the Netherlands' population when a flu pandemic breaks out,'' the ministry said in a statement.
The ''sleeping'' contract books production for making vaccines for the Netherlands, once the make-up of the pandemic strain has been identified.
''Production of vaccines takes about six months. With this contract the health ministry makes sure that the first eight weeks of production at Solvay Pharmaceuticals B V will be reserved for producing vaccines for the Netherlands.'' Bird flu has killed more than 90 people around the world but it remains essentially an animal disease which people contract only through direct contact with infected birds.
Specialists fear it is only a matter of time before it changes into a form that passes easily between humans, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.