WHO Holds Off on H1N1 Vaccine Decision; U.S. To Help Monitor H1N1 in Southern Hemisphere

The WHO will continue to monitor the spread of the H1N1 (swine) flu before issuing a decision on whether drug makers should begin the production of an H1N1 vaccine, acting WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said Tuesday, Reuters/Washington Post reports. Fukuda said the WHO will hold off on an H1N1 vaccine recommendation until “sometime during the summer” (MacInnis, Reuters/Washington Post, 5/26).

While “[w]e are in the process of the most basic development of the vaccine,” the WHO does not “want to make recommendations too early because we are on a daily basis monitoring how the situation is evolving,” Fukuda said during a press conference, adding, “We are still at the early stage of this pandemic and we have to see where it goes.”

The WHO on Tuesday said that it had identified a strain of the H1N1 virus that vaccine manufacturers could use to produce an H1N1 vaccine, Bloomberg reports (Gale, Bloomberg, 5/27). Fukuda said that “without knowing how effective the vaccine might be, it’s too early to recommend that drug makers commit manufacturing resources to it” (AP/CBC News, 5/26).

According to Fukuda, the U.N. plans to hold a meeting with scientists and public health experts within weeks to brainstorm ways to best revise the WHO’s pandemic alert system to include the severity of a virus – a decision announced last week after flu-affected countries pushed for the WHO to rethink the guidelines in the face of the rapidly spreading, yet mild H1N1 virus (Reuters/Washington Post, 5/26).

The WHO on Wednesday reported that 48 countries have officially reported 13,398 cases of H1N1 influenza infection, including 95 deaths. A full list of country cases and deaths is available here (WHO Influenza A(H1N1) – update 40, 5/27).

The new cases of H1N1 in the U.S. appear to be leveling off, Ann Schuchat of the CDC said during a news conference on Tuesday, USA Today reports.

“With the flu now apparently in decline in North America, the CDC has begun negotiations with the Pan American Health Organization and health ministries in Latin America and other Southern Hemisphere countries to monitor the ebb and flow of the virus during their winter flu season, which usually peaks in June or July,” the newspaper writes. Over the next few weeks, the spread and severity of H1N1 in the Southern Hemisphere may help the WHO to decide on the necessity of an H1N1 vaccine (Sternberg, USA Today, 5/26).