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WHO Lowers Expectation Of H1N1 Vaccine Output, Appeals For Donations To Fight Pandemic

International drug makers are expected to produce three billion doses of the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine, “enough for just under half the world’s population,” a WHO official said Thursday, Canwest News Service/Ottawa Citizen reports. “The agency was hoping pharmaceutical companies would be able to make about five billion doses a year, but data collected over the summer led to the revised estimate,” the news service writes (Fitzpatrick, 9/24).

“These supplies will still be inadequate to cover a world population of 6.8 billion people in which virtually everyone is susceptible to infection by a new and readily contagious virus,” the WHO said in a written statement. “Global manufacturing capacity for influenza vaccines is limited, inadequate and not readily augmented” (9/24).

The organization hopes to acquire a total of 300 million doses of the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine – 100 million doses more than total pledged donations – for countries having difficulty accessing the vaccine, a WHO official said Thursday, the Washington Post reports. The WHO’s goal is to distribute a supply of H1N1 vaccines to 90 countries, who combined make up “about 3 billion of the world’s 6.8 billion people,” the newspaper writes. “They either can’t afford vaccine or have been unable to find a manufacturer able to supply it to them over the next few months, when the swine flu pandemic is expected to peak.”

“We hope that the whole world will have some access to the vaccine,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, director of WHO’s Initiative for Vaccine Research. “In some countries it will be possible to vaccinate the whole population and in some countries only 10 percent.” So far, the vaccine makers Sanofi Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline have agreed to donate a total of 150 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, and, last week, nine developed countries pledged to give 10 percent of their stockpiles – which Kieny estimated at “about 50 million doses in all,” the first of which will become available in late October.

“In the meantime, WHO officials are seeking to fill the projected 100 million-dose gap with donations from other countries and manufacturers, of which there are 36 worldwide,” the newspaper writes (Brown, 9/24).  Kyodo News/Japanese Times reports the Foreign Ministry of Japan on Thursday announced the country would offer about $12.2 million in emergency aid to the WHO to help purchase H1N1 vaccines for developing countries (9/25).

Kieny also said the H1N1 vaccine continues to appear safe, Bloomberg reports. “Side effects from the swine flu vaccine given to 44,000 people in China have so far been mild, with just 14 cases of adverse events reported,” Kieny reported Thursday, according to the news service (Serafino, 9/24).

Critics Question U.N.’s $1.5 billion H1N1 Appeal

In a related story, the Associated Press examines a recent report by the U.N. that the organization needs nearly $1.5 billion to fight the H1N1 virus. According to the news service, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on Thursday met with top health officials to discuss the report and the appeal on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting.

Because “most people recover [from H1N1] without ever being treated, not all experts are convinced swine flu merits such attention — and some critics even suspect the U.N. is using the pandemic as a convenient way to raise money,” the news service writes. The WHO has rejected this claim, arguing even if the H1N1 virus fails to mutate into a more deadly form it could devastate already weak health systems in developing countries.

“Globally, WHO estimates more than 3,500 people have died of swine flu — far fewer than those killed by diarrhea, pneumonia, or road accidents,” leading some experts, in turn, “to contend that WHO’s prediction the virus could lead to ‘civil disruption’ in poor countries may be overblown.” The article includes comments by health experts who question the WHO’s recent funding appeal and the organization’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic (Cheng, 9/24).

U.S. Health Officials Anticipate 6M H1N1 Vaccine Doses By Early October

Also on Thursday, U.S. health officials announced “[m]ore than six million doses of swine flu vaccine will be available by the first week in October, more that twice as many as had been recently expected, federal health officials said,” the New York Times reports.  Most of that vaccine “will be the FluMist nasal spray, which is recommended only for people ages 2 to 49 and not for pregnant women or people with health problems” (McNeil, 9/25). HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius emphasized there would be “plenty of vaccine for everyone who wants it,” CNN reports (9/24).

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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.