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New York Times Examines WHO Process For Getting H1N1 Vaccines To Countries In Need

The New York Times examines the WHO’s role as a “clearinghouse” for getting the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine to lower income nations. Though H1N1 has died down in North America and many wealthier nations “are trying to get rid of their [vaccine] surpluses,” the virus continues to circulate in regions of North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, according to the newspaper.

“Of the 95 countries that told the World Health Organization last year that they had no means of getting flu vaccine, only two, Azerbaijan and Mongolia, have received any so far. Afghanistan is expected to be next,” the newspaper writes. By now, WHO officials said they had hoped to have shipped enough H1N1 vaccines to offer protection to 2 percent of the populations in 14 countries, according to the New York Times.

The article examines the logistical challenges associated with global vaccine transfers, which is done through the WHO. The newspaper writes, “Each country must submit a plan proving it can store refrigerated vaccine, give it to those who need it most, inject it safely and do medical follow-up. It must also sign letters exempting donors from legal liability, and the WHO has to certify the vaccine as safe if the country has no regulatory agency. Even shipping adds delays. By December, Dr. [Keiji] Fukuda [the WHO’s chief of pandemic influenza] said, only five countries had even received syringes.”

The newspaper continues, “Although 190 million doses have been pledged to the WHO, it is not ready to use them. So rich countries are frantically trying to cancel orders,” or strike bilateral deals with countries in need of the H1N1 vaccine.

The piece includes comments by Fukuda, Bill Gates, and other health experts, who weigh in on H1N1 vaccine distribution to poor countries (McNeil, 2/1).

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