U.S. to Donate 10 Percent of Swine Flu Vaccine to WHO

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009; A02

The United States plans to donate 10 percent of its supply of pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccine to the World Health Organization for use in low-income countries.

The nation has on order 195 million doses of the swine flu vaccine, which is due to start arriving early next month. The White House said it "is taking this action in concert" with eight other countries.

The White House released no details about the program, such as timetables and total amounts of vaccine to be donated. Officials at the Geneva-based WHO did not respond to phone and e-mail inquiries.

The other countries making donations are Australia, Brazil, Britain, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

Earlier this summer, two vaccine manufacturers, Sanofi Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline, said they would donate 150 million doses of pandemic vaccine to WHO. Global production, by about 20 makers in all, is projected to be 2 billion to 4 billion doses over a year.

The number of people who could be protected is uncertain. The first tests of the pandemic vaccine showed that adults will need only one shot, not two as some experts predicted. Children, however, are likely to need two.

"The United States recognizes that just as this challenge transcends borders, so must our response. We invite other nations to join in this urgent global effort," the White House said.

The statement noted as well that "we remain confident that the United States will have sufficient doses of the vaccine to ensure that every American who wants a vaccine is able to receive one."

WHO officials have grappled all summer with how to prevent virtually all the supply of vaccine and antiviral drugs from going to rich countries, leaving poor countries unprotected.

"Improving access to vaccine is the central global issue at this time," Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director general, told epidemiologists and influenza researchers in Washington this week. They were meeting at the Institute of Medicine to discuss events of the first five months of the pandemic.

Negotiations between WHO, the United Nations, vaccine manufacturers and wealthy countries that have standing orders for an essentially limitless supply of pandemic flu vaccine have been "slow and time-consuming," Fukuda said.

Without them "the least developed countries are not really going to have a chance of getting the vaccine." But he acknowledged that "nobody expects the numbers to work out in this pandemic."

Fukuda said that "prolonged ad hoc negotiations" like the ones this summer would be unrealistic in a pandemic more severe than this one.

In 2007, when researchers complained that Indonesia was not making samples of H5N1 "bird flu" available for study, WHO convened intergovernmental negotiations to try to reach an agreement for sharing both virus samples and the benefits that might result from them, such as vaccines. The negotiations ended this year without a full agreement.

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