SLOVAKIA will probably not have its own factory for producing an influenza vaccine. Despite earlier plans to build one in eastern Slovak town of Šarišské Michaľany, and then in Malacky, in the west of the country, the latest document prepared by the Heath Ministry and State Material Reserves Office (SŠHR) proposes to abandon the idea and find other ways to secure the vaccines in the case of a pandemic.
The report on the next steps for preparing Slovakia for an influenza pandemic, submitted for interdepartmental discussion on August 9, contains the explanation of the proposal not to build the factory, and the ways for further usage of facility in Malacky, which is still under construction. The state has already spent more than €19.7 million on the project and related technologies.
The construction of the facility in Malacky has so far cost nearly €18.5 million on its own, with another €1.5 million necessary for its completion. Construction work was officially halted in October 2012.
“None of the pharmaceutical companies expressed an interest in producing the pandemic vaccine in Malacky,” Martina Lidinská, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator.
If the state wanted to finish the factory owned by the pharmaceutical company Imuna Pharm in Šarišské Michaľany, it would have to spend an additional €21 million, plus other costs connected with the vaccine production, Lidinská added. It is unlikely vaccines will be produced at either facility, she said.
Looking for alternatives
The document submitted by the Health Ministry and SŠHR recommends other ways to secure the vaccines against pandemic flu. One is to procure the vaccines together with other European Union member states. Lidinská said negotiations related to this alternative are underway. The next meeting at which the European Commission should introduce the final proposal will take place in autumn, she added.
If this alternative fails, Slovakia might also buy the vaccines directly from foreign producers, according to the ministry document. Health Minister Zuzana Zvolenská should make a decision on how to proceed by the end of 2014, Lidinská said.
The ministry document also proposes alternative uses for the unfinished factory in Malacky and the affiliated equipment that has already been purchased, currently stored at SŠHR.
The Health Ministry originally suggested transforming the building into a storehouse for general medicine and medical devices. Another alternative would be to turn the facility over to the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) for use in research, according to the documents.
Regarding the technologies and equipment, the submitted material proposes to ensure that they will be used effectively and in accord with their original purpose. The authors of the report recommend finding a solution by the end of 2013. The total loss in wasted expenditures could reach €7.3 million plus the costs of their liquidation, the report states.
Halting construction on factory
Various governments have discussed producing vaccines for pandemic influenza since 2001, with the agreement on constructing the factory passed in 2009. The project was meant to engage a pharmaceutical company active in Slovakia which has “personnel and professional potential and has practical experience in producing vaccines or other similar products”, the ministry document reads.
The first government of Robert Fico (2006-10) wanted to build a factory for pandemic vaccine production on the grounds of the company Imuna Pharm, located in Šarišské Michaľany. During the rule of Iveta Radičová’s government (2010-12), the SŠHR led by Eva Hrinková, changed the location and moved the project to Malacky.
Construction began at the end of 2011, after the SŠHR signed an agreement worth more than €23 million with Prague-based company Block. After accepting changes to the original agreement, spending grew to more than €24.8 million, including VAT, according to a Health Ministry document.
The SŠHR bought the land in Malacky for more than €453,000, according to the report. Imuna Pharm was offering its land for €1, according to the SITA newswire.
Construction on the building’s interior stopped in August 2012 after the government accepted the recommendation of the SŠHR, which cited the lack of a partner on the project. Work continued only on the outer part of the building, SITA reported.
Despite the negotiations with other pharmaceutical companies, none showed interest in cooperating in the production of the pandemic vaccines, which led to the October 2012 decision not to produce the vaccine in Malacky.
According to the available information, the construction of the factory in Malacky cost the state €11.8 million through June 2012, of which €166,200 was found by the Finance Ministry audit to have been used un-transparently. The police launched an investigation in January 2013, as reported by SITA.