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WHO cuts swine flu vaccine production estimate

Swine flu cases double in Britain
The number of new swine flu cases in Britain almost doubled in a week in the second weekly increase following a summer lull, official date released Thursday showed. At least 66 schools in England have recorded outbreaks of the A(H1N1) virus since children returned to school at the start of September, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA). Experts have warned of a second wave of flu as the northern hemisphere winter nears. Pharmacologists have been working on vaccines over the summer, aiming to produce the first usable drugs as early as October. The estimated number of new cases rose to 9,000 from 5,000 in the previous week in Britain, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the virus.

This is nowhere near the peak of more than 100,000 new cases in a week in July. The number of deaths of people with swine flu stands at at least 82 in Britain, including 70 in England, nine in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland and one in Wales. Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson warned that children and their parents should take particular care. "Parents of children with underlying illnesses should consult their doctor," he said. "Children with flu-like symptoms and whose condition deteriorates should consult their doctor because that might be an indication that they have serious complications of flu or have another serious illness of childhood."

US flu warning to pregnant women
Top US health officials Thursday urged pregnant women to get the (A)H1N1 flu vaccine, even before trials are complete for their high risk-group, when the dosage starts becoming available next month. They also urged parents of young children to ensure their offspring get the vaccine, to combat the impact of the disease which is far more dangerous to young people, especially those with underlying conditions, than seasonal flu. "I tell every pregnant woman I talk to, that getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your baby," said Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General of the US Public Health Service. "I would get it when it is available, because I think that the risk is substantial," she said at a White House briefing.

"As a doctor, and a public health expert, and a flu expert, if I were pregnant or my sister was pregnant, I would get the vaccine." Clinical trials for pregnant women tested with the vaccine are expected to be complete by the end of October, while first doses of the drug are due to be available in the first week of the month. But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said trials were taking place due to an abundance of caution, and that years of data on seasonal flu vaccines suggested there was little elevated risk from the dosage.

"When I was pregnant, I was totally reluctant to take anything at any time," said Sebelius. But she added that there was a imbalance between the risk for pregnant women of getting vaccinated and getting a complication versus the chances of getting (A) H1N1 flu itself. Studies show that pregnant women are among the highest risk groups in terms of complications of (A)H1N1 flu as they are more likely to face immunity deficiencies or respiratory problems. Figures show that pregnant women account for six percent of confirmed deaths from the new flu strain, while making up only one percent of the population.

by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) Sept 24, 2009
The World Health Organization said Thursday that pharmaceutical firms can produce only three billion doses of swine flu vaccines a year, covering less than half of the global population.

However, tests show that just one jab would offer sufficient protection against the A(H1N1) virus and that the vaccine is as safe as seasonal flu vaccines.

"Outcomes of trials completed to date suggest that pandemic vaccines are as safe as seasonal influenza vaccines," the UN agency said in a statement, adding that side effects arising from the pandemic vaccines should be "similar" to those observed in seasonal flu vaccines.

These symptoms include fever, headache, muscle or joint aches, and should be mild and last up to two days.

Marie-Paule Kieny, who heads the WHO's vaccine research unit, revealed that some 44,000 vaccinations in China have so far yielded "14 adverse events", but these effects have all been "mild."

Clinical trials by drugmakers also indicate that only one dose would be needed, effectively doubling the number of people who can be covered, added Kieny, who hailed this as "very good news."

This helps in part to relieve pressure on stocks, especially since annual production would cover less than half of the world's 6.8 billion population.

In May, the WHO had forecast a weekly output of 94.3 million doses, or an annual capacity of five billion doses.

But pharmaceutical companies have since slashed production forecasts due to poorer than expected yields from the so-called "seed virus" strains developed by WHO-approved laboratories.

The WHO acknowledged that global manufacturing capacity is "limited, inadequate and not readily augmented."

Kieny said however there have been "good news" on this front, as latest strains provided to manufacturers are now "closer in terms of yield to seasonal vaccine" although they are still not at the ideal level.

Amid growing fears that poorer nations will not get enough vaccines, the United States this month led nine countries to pledge to make 10 percent of their swine flu vaccine supply available to other nations in need.

The WHO said it would be coordinating the distribution of the donated vaccines, with an initial 300 million doses of vaccines to be sent to more than 90 countries.

The first deliveries should start in November, said the WHO, adding that health workers should be vaccinated in priority.

The UN health agency said it is talking to other governments, including Canada, to come forward with more aid for developing countries.

According to a United Nations assessment issued Wednesday, some 1.48 billion dollars in funding is required to help poor countries deal with the swine flu pandemic.

The funds would pay for vaccines, programmes to strengthen low income countries' readiness to cope with the pandemic and costs of support provided by specialist UN agencies or partner agencies, explained the UN.

At least 3,486 people have died from the A(H1N1) virus since it was uncovered in April, according to the WHO's weekly bulletin issued on September 18. There have been 2,625 fatalities in the Americas region alone.

earlier related report
Australia to start swine flu vaccinations next week: minister
Australia will roll out its mass swine flu vaccination programme next week, making the first four million doses available to the public, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said on Thursday.

Roxon urged vulnerable people such as the chronically ill to see their doctors for the free shots, which will be given to anyone aged 10 or over from Wednesday, pending clinical trials on younger children.

"We've received over four million doses of the vaccine. And it's going to be available to everyone who wants it, aged 10 and over," Roxon told public broadcaster ABC.

"But we are trying to particularly urge those who are vulnerable to prioritise going to see their GP to get this vaccine and ensure that they get the extra protection that it provides."

Australia has been hit hard by (A)H1N1 in the southern hemisphere winter, with some 36,559 cases and 178 related deaths. The authorities have ordered 21 million vaccine doses, enough for the entire population, from pharmaceutical firm CSL.

Although the number of deaths has been limited, experts fear it will mutate and return in a more dangerous form.

earlier related report
China to have 26 mln swine flu shots by end-October: govt
China will have a stockpile of 26 million swine flu vaccine shots by the end of October, the government has said, as it ramps up a mass inoculation programme in anticipation of a winter outbreak.

The number of vaccines in reserve will later surge to 100 million, but not before year's end, health ministry spokesman Deng Haihua told reporters.

"The number is expected to increase to 100 million when the country finishes its second phase of production," Deng said Wednesday, in comments posted on the ministry's website.

China kicked off its mass vaccination for the A(H1N1) influenza virus on Monday in Beijing, apparently becoming the first nation in the world to start inoculating its population against the virus.

The Asian giant has been at the forefront of international efforts to produce an A(H1N1) influenza vaccine, with several domestic companies already obtaining government approval for production.

Officials however have warned demand will exceed supply.

The health ministry warned earlier this month that "tens of millions" of people could contract the virus in China in the coming months.

China had confirmed 14,581 cases of the virus nationwide as of Wednesday, according to health ministry figures, but no deaths have yet been reported by the government.

Of the roughly 39,000 Beijing residents inoculated as of Tuesday afternoon, 14 had reported adverse reactions, Xinhua news agency reported.

It quoted officials saying the reactions "may be" related to the vaccines and that authorities were investigating.

Authorities kicked off the vaccination programme by giving shots to students due to take part in mass celebrations for China's National Day on October 1.

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WHO worries about swine flu deaths with no underlying illness
Hong Kong (AFP) Sept 22, 2009
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it was worried that up to a quarter of the fatal swine flu cases in the Western Pacific were patients with no underlying medical condition. By September 19, an estimated 25 percent of the 352 death cases reported in the region had no prior medical problems, the WHO announced at its Western Pacific annual conference in Hong Kong. "That worries ... read more

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