October 12, 2009

Poorer Nations To Receive H1N1 Vaccine Donations

A World Health Organization official said Monday that about 100 developing countries would receive international donations of swine flu vaccines, maybe as soon as November, AFP reported.

Marie-Paule Kieny, who heads the WHO's vaccine research unit, said the director general of WHO will approve a list of countries for the donations.

She told journalists the list will include about 100 countries and they are trying to have the first deliveries in November.

Pharmaceutical companies and a US-led group of rich nations that have pledged to release 10 percent of their vaccine purchases for poor nations have lined up millions of doses for the cause.

Kieny said it would include some 150 million doses from two makers Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), as well as an as yet unspecified amount from a third supplier, Medimmune, in the form of a nasal spray and the rich nation stocks.

The donations would be directed to low and some middle income countries and the deliveries should target about two percent of the population there over the next four or five months, beginning with health workers and followed by other vulnerable groups, she added.

Global influenza A(H1N1) vaccine production should be higher than feared a few weeks ago, according to Kieny.  Although, she did not change the overall production capacity of about three billion doses estimated by the WHO last month.

"We have good news. Although it seems the yields with the latest vaccine viruses provided to the manufacturers... are not as good as with seasonal flu, there has been a marked increase in the yields," she explained.

She said they are reaching a situation where availability of vaccine will be higher than what was feared a few weeks ago.

Previously, WHO chief Margaret Chan had cut the estimated global production capacity from five billion doses to three billion a year, mainly due to poorer than expected yields from "seed virus" strains used to make the vaccine.

However, just one dose is sufficient to provide immunity and Kieny insisted that there was no reason to doubt the safety of the swine flu vaccines approved by regulators or their ingredients.

The WHO said that after 100,000 vaccinations in China, just one in 1,000 recipients developed "mild" side-effects such as a pain in the arm after the jab or a bout of fever.

Kieny said the proportion so far was "actually quite low".

The UN health agency had already announced plans to supply developing nations with the vaccines they often cannot afford to buy, and the donations, in recent months. But it has gradually increased the number of countries targeted.

A group of independent experts on immunization, known as SAGE, is due to hold its regular meeting on October 27 to 29, partly to discuss A(H1N1) vaccinations.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said it could take years for the H1N1 infection rate to slow down.

Once enough people have been exposed to the virus or have gained protection from vaccination, it could act more as a seasonal flu instead of a pandemic one, he said.


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