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H1N1 Cases Still Increasing In Many Countries; WHO To Begin Shipping Donated Vaccines Within Weeks

With many countries continuing to report a growing number of H1N1 (swine flu) cases, Keiji Fukuda, special adviser to the WHO director general on pandemic influenza, said Thursday it was too early to declare the pandemic over, the Washington Post reports. “Fukuda said that while the second wave of infections has peaked in the United States and some other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the level of flu activity remains high elsewhere – in some European countries, including Switzerland and the Czech Republic, and in parts of Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan,” according to the newspaper.

“The pandemic is a global event. It is not simply a regional event,” Fukuda said during a briefing (Stein, 12/18). “Fukuda also noted that the signs of a peak and a decline in the caseload in North America and parts of Europe had occurred ‘extraordinarily early for influenza,’ with several months of the winter left,” Agence France-Presse reports. “As a result, the WHO could not rule out the possibility of another wave of illness in late winter or early spring” (12/17).

Also during the briefing, Fukuda announced the WHO’s plans to begin shipping H1N1 vaccines to Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Mongolia within the next few weeks, the Associated Press reports. Vaccines will go to 35 developing countries soon after, the news service reports. “The U.N. health agency has prioritized sending the shots to northern hemisphere countries first, which are being hit harder by swine flu than countries in the southern hemisphere.” The article adds details about several conditions countries had to meet in order to receive the vaccine donations from WHO (12/17).

The 180 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine the WHO promised to developing countries “have been pledged by the five major manufacturers and 12 countries, although it is not clear how many have followed through. The United States, for example, has pledged 10% of its supply to the WHO but has not yet shipped any,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “But more vaccine may become available soon because many countries placed orders on the assumption that two doses would be required to immunize most people,” the newspaper continues. “Now that it is clear that one dose is sufficient for everyone except children younger than 10, there is likely to be a surplus. The U.S., for example, ordered the ingredients for 251 million doses, and it seems unlikely that all those will be used” (Maugh, 12/18).

In related news, Reuters reports officials in Germany and Spain are in talks with pharmaceutical companies about reducing deliveries and returning surplus supplies of the H1N1 vaccine. Both countries are also exploring the options for deals to give excess H1N1 vaccine supplies to other countries. “Fukuda said countries with surplus vaccine had ‘a number of options’ including donating it to those who have none, or keeping it in reserve for a later date,” the news service writes (Hirschler/Kelland, 12/17).

HHS Secretary Kathleen Seblieus said Thursday that by Friday the number of doses of H1N1 vaccine in the U.S. will surpass the 100 million mark and urged Americans who had not yet received the vaccine to do so, AFP reports in a second story. “We have a chance to lessen the impact or even prevent a big third wave when flu season really hits, and need to seize that opportunity now,” Sebelius said (12/17).

PBS’ NewsHour features a documentary examining the science and policy behind the H1N1 pandemic (Suarez, 12/14).

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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.