WHO To Hold H1N1 Vaccine Production Meeting Next Week
The WHO on Wednesday announced plans to meet with vaccine manufacturers, country regulators and flu experts next week to help them decide about whether or not they should begin large-scale production of a vaccine that protects against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, CNN reports.
Marie-Paule Kieny, the director of the WHO's initiative for vaccine research, said the group will also advise the WHO about whether the organization should give vaccine makers the go-ahead to stop the current production of the seasonal flu vaccine to allow for maximum production of a swine flu vaccine during a May 14 teleconference (CNN, 5/6).
"The virulence of the new strain remains unclear, but seasonal flu is a known killer," the Los Angeles Times writes. "About 36,000 people die from it in the U.S. each year and tens of thousands more worldwide." Kieny said, "We would not want to have no seasonal influenza vaccine" (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
Also on Wednesday, Canadian researchers announced that they had completed the first genetic sequencing of the H1N1 flu virus, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/6). Kieny's statement indicated that there will likely be a "seed vaccine" for the H1N1 flu virus stage one of vaccine production ready this month (CNN, 5/6). WHO says it will take 4-6 months before the first vaccine for H1N1 becomes commercially available, VOA reports.
"What we have recommended for the timing at present, which was a technical recommendation for all manufacturers is to put everything in place to be able to start manufacturing vaccines," Kieny said (Schlein, VOA, 5/6). Keiny said the vaccine makers throughout the world have the maximum capacity to produce 1.2 billion doses of an H1N1 flu vaccine, the New York Times reports (McNeil, New York Times, 5/7).
Potential Vaccine Distribution in Developing Countries Examined
Even if swine flu vaccine production kicks into high gear, the Washington Post reports, "'pre-production contracts' by wealthy countries" will allow them access to the majority of the vaccine produced. The Washington Post writes that of the total worldwide capacity for a pandemic vaccine, the U.S. "has preexisting contracts that would allow it to buy at least 600 million doses" (Brown, Washington Post, 5/7).
While aware of the advance purchase agreements, the WHO believes "there is remaining capacity within the industry and wants to snag part of it for developing countries before it is snapped up by other, wealthier countries," the Canadian Press/Google.com writes. "We know . . . most of them at least still have some window of opportunity in their orders," Keiny said, adding "we want to make sure that we don't wait until this window has completely closed" (Canadian Press/Google.com, 5/6).
To address this issue, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will meet with representatives of drug manufacturing companies to discuss how a swine flu vaccine would be distributed to developing countries (CNN, 5/6).
Virus Continues To Spread, Could Affect One-Third of World Population
Though it appears that symptoms caused by the H1N1 flu virus appear to be similar to those caused by the seasonal flu, the virus continues to spread around the world (Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 5/6). Keiji Fukuda the WHO's assistant director-general of health, security and environment on Wednesday said that the swine flu may affect one-third of the world's population within the year, Bloomberg reports. "Even if the illnesses appear relatively mild at the individual level, the global population level adds up to enormous numbers," Fukuda said (Randall, Bloomberg, 5/7).
The WHO on Thursday reported that 23 countries have officially reported 2,099 cases of H1N1 flu infection. Laboratory tests have confirmed 1,112 cases of swine flu, including 42 deaths in Mexico; in the U.S. 642 cases of swine flu have been confirmed, including two deaths. The WHO writes, "The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (201), China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1), Colombia (1), Costa Rica (1), Denmark (1), El Salvador (2), France (5), Germany (9), Guatemala (1), Ireland (1), Israel (4), Italy (5), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (5), Portugal (1), Republic of Korea (2), Spain (73), Sweden (1), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (28)" (WHO Influenza A(H1N1) - update 19, 5/7).
Though Africa has yet to report a confirmed case of H1N1 flu, health officials on the continent continue to prepare, admitting the virus might have already arrived, AFP/Google.com reports (AFP/Google.com, 5/7).
During a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee meeting on Wednesday Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., chairman of the Africa and global health subcommittee, expressed concern that Africa has yet to report a confirmed case of swine flu, AP/Google.com reports. He said that the lack of cases "may actually represent the absence of the ability to detect the virus and may mean the true impact of the strain is yet to be seen" (Abrams, AP/Google.com, 5/6).
Ahmed el-Sawalhy, head of the African Union's (AU) Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources said, "We can't say for sure that no country in Africa has had infections, because of the lack of preparedness and early detection. For example, yesterday I was at the airport in Nairobi: nothing. But when you go to Cairo airport, it's completely different, everyone was checked, there are forms for everyone coming from affected countries."
According to AU Social Affairs Commissioner Bience Gawanas, African health ministers will meet in Addis Ababa on Thursday and Friday to coordinate preparedness plans and "ask for as many anti-viral drugs as possible," writes AFP/Google.com (AFP/Google.com, 5/7).
Also on Thursday, health ministers and senior officials from 13 Asian countries met in Bangkok for a two-day meeting to discuss ways to work together to halt the spread of H1N1 throughout Asia, Xinhua reports (Xinhua, 5/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.