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EUR: Swine flu vaccine orders pass one billion: WHO

Wed Aug 19 05:32:37 EST 2009

PARIS, Aug 18 AFP - Northern hemisphere countries have so far ordered more than one billion doses of swine flu vaccine, the World Health Organisation has said.

This intense demand coupled with production delays could create shortages, forcing governments preparing for a second, possibly more deadly, wave of flu in the autumn to make hard choices about who to vaccinate first.

"Pandemic vaccine orders put in by northern hemisphere countries stand at over one billion," WHO spokeswoman Melinda Henry told AFP on Tuesday.

"In the early days there will be a very limited supply of vaccine. There won't be sufficient supply to vaccinate whole populations or even huge proportions of populations," Henry said.

Some countries - notably Greece, The Netherlands, Canada and Israel - have ordered enough double doses to inoculate their entire populations.

Others, such as the Germany, United States, Britain and France, have put in orders that would cover between 30 and 78 per cent.

In July the WHO said that the 25 drug companies which had announced their intention to manufacture vaccines could crank out up to 94 million doses per week starting in mid-October.

The global health body revised these numbers sharply downward when the top half-dozen vaccine makers - accounting for 85 per cent of global production - reported that the swine flu strains with which they were working did not reproduce as quickly as expected.

The current vaccine strain would only yield 25 to 50 per cent of the original estimate, as low as 23 million doses per week, said Henry.

Clinical tests have not yet confirmed whether new strains under development will produce higher yields and initial results for at least one, reviewed by WHO on Tuesday, are not encouraging.

There remains a big question mark as to whether one or two doses will be needed for effective vaccination he said.

A Chinese drug company, Sinovac Biotech, announced on Tuesday that it had completed clinical trials showing that its new vaccine "induces good immunogenicity after one dose."

But some experts have said that double doses will be needed because most people have no immunity to the so-called "novel" A(H1N1) virus.