GSK faces row over vaccine shortage

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Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline is facing questions over shortages of its vaccine for the fatal liver infection hepatitis B that has led to limitations in the UK, at a point when its supply to the US appears to be unscathed.

The variation has led to conclusions from liver disease campaigners that GSK may be “prioritising” the huge American demand.

At the beginning of this month, Public Health England (PHE) advised doctors to limit prescriptions of the drug, citing a “global shortage” but it was discovered deficits of the vaccine are not as extensive as suggested.

Hepatitis B is contagious to other people by means of bodily fluids and is regarded as a “silent killer” contributing to 900,000 deaths a year, worldwide, ­although it is more widespread in the ­developing countries and is uncommon in the UK. In comparison, HIV causes 1m deaths every year. While the risk is moderate in the UK, foundations and academics sound worries about the “unprecedented” shortage.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is accountable for monitoring supplies of vaccines globally, states there is no worldwide shortage.

Chief executive of the charity, British Liver Trust, Andrew Langford, asked for more transparency from GSK on what happened to the alleged prioritisation. He said: “If GSK is prioritising supply to the US I’d like to know why they’ve made that decision.”

A spokesperson for GSK said the firm had a worldwide shortage of hepatitis vaccines but did not explain the apparent disparity in stock between the UK and US.

PHE said it had no data to ­say GSK was prioritising in supplying the US over the UK.