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
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
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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