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Flu Vaccine Shortages In Developing Countries Could Destabilize Global Security, Says Former WHO Deputy Head

“Flu vaccine shortages in developing nations may destabilize global security should the H1N1 [swine flu] virus become more deadly … David Heymann, a former deputy head of the World Health Organization” said Monday, Bloomberg reports. Heyman acknowledged the H5N1 (bird flu) virus helped to bolster the preparedness of developed nations for H1N1, but said there remain gaps in the ability to guarantee developing countries have access to vaccines.

“Globally I think we’re not probably as prepared as we need to be in more equitable access to vaccines,” Heymann said. “An acute pandemic with high mortality and no vaccine in developing nations, and vaccine in industrialized countries, could cause various scenarios, and one of those could be an extreme destabilization of global security.” The article examines recent comments by health ministers regarding the distribution of H1N1 vaccines to developing countries and the WHO’s plan to donate enough H1N1 vaccine to cover 10 percent of the populations in developing countries (Bennett, 12/8).

The Canadian Press examines the ongoing talks between GlaxoSmithKline and the WHO about what to do with Canada’s leftover H1N1 vaccines. “Federal officials have been refusing to say what they will do with the excess vaccine. While many other developed countries have pledged vaccine to the [WHO] for redistribution to developing countries, Canada has held back, to the puzzlement of the country’s peers,” the news service writes (Branswell, 12/9).

BMJ Study Calls Into Question The Effectiveness Of Tamiflu

“British researchers say there is little evidence Tamiflu stops complications in healthy people who catch the flu, though public health officials contend the swine flu drug reduces flu hospitalizations and deaths,” according to a  BMJ study published Tuesday, the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. Researchers, who reviewed previously published papers on the effectiveness of Tamiflu in treating the seasonal flu, “found insufficient data to prove whether the antiviral reduces complications like pneumonia in otherwise healthy people but concluded the drug shortens flu symptoms by about a day,” the news service writes (Cheng, 12/8).

Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog: “Although the controversy involves trials of the drug against seasonal influenza, the debate has particular significance now because Tamiflu is the primary tool used in combating pandemic H1N1 influenza in the face of poor availability of the swine flu vaccine. In response to the new findings, both the [WHO and CDC] said they would continue to stand by their guidelines for use of the drug, arguing that it is not a good tool for prophylaxis against the swine flu virus but that it does provide benefit in reducing complications.” The blog adds details about the scientists’ review of the drug and comments by officials from Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu (Maugh, 12/8). An accompanying BMJ editorial calls for a strengthening of “the system by which drugs are evaluated, regulated and promoted” (Godlee/Clarke, 12/8).

NEJM Report Reveals Cluster Of Tamiflu-Resistant H1N1 In Vietnam

“Seven healthy people on a train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi in Vietnam caught Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 flu, researchers reported Wednesday” in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Canadian Press reports. “The transmission event, which occurred in July, is one of the largest clusters of cases of resistant H1N1 seen so far and the first time so many linked cases have been seen in previously healthy people who had not been on the drug” (Branswell, 12/9). Since the incident, all patients have recovered from H1N1, the AP reports (12/9).

News Outlets Examine H1N1 In North Korea

The New York Times examines conflicting reports over the number of deaths from H1N1 in North Korea. Though North Korea’s “official new agency, K.C.N.A.,” on Wednesday reported nine cases of H1N1 Wednesday, an “aid group [known as] Good Friends, which is based in Seoul but gleans information on North Korea through inside informants, said about 40 people had died in the last month after the H1N1 strain caused a flu outbreak in the North,” according to the newspaper. K.C.N.A. did not confirm any deaths in the country from H1N1 (Sang-Hun, 12/9).

In related news, the AP reports North Korea agreed Thursday to accept Tamiflu from South Korea to deal with an outbreak of H1N1. The announcement comes two days after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak offered assistance to help the country deal with the outbreak (Kim, 12/10).

Agence France-Presse: “Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek said the South would send enough for 500,000 patients. ‘We’ll provide it swiftly, without any conditions,’ Hyun told parliament” (12/10).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.