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Italy wants EU to set up flu vaccine stockpile

Luxembourg — Italy will on Thursday propose that the European Union consider establishing a stockpile of antivirals and vaccines to combat the spread of swine flu.

Rome was to introduce the initiative at an emergency meeting of EU health ministers in Luxembourg Thursday, according to a draft document prepared for the meeting.

Italy proposes "the examination of the possibilities of setting up a strategic stockpile of antivirals and vaccines as well as a joint programme of management and purchasing of these products through the establishment of an ad hoc group of national experts."

The draft conclusions for the health ministers meeting, seen by AFP, only calls on EU governments to "to ensure the most efficient protection to citizens".

The draft statement also calls for the member states to facilitate "the development of a pilot vaccine" for the potentially deadly virus confirmed cases of which have been found in Austria, Britain, Germany and Spain among the 27 EU nations.

Europe currently has enough antiviral medicine for 16 percent of the EU population of around half a billion people, according to the European Commission.

The World Health Organisation has raised the flu warning level to five on a 1-6 scale — meaning the threat of a pandemic was imminent and that time is short for nations to put emergency plans into action.

Officials in Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak, said eight people were confirmed dead while 91 infected people were healthy. They said the suspected death toll from the disease was 84, about half the previous number.