By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009 7:42 PM
The World Health Organization hopes to provide enough H1N1 pandemic vaccine to about 90 countries to allow them to immunize 10 percent of their citizens, a WHO official in Geneva said Thursday.
The countries together have about 3 billion of the world's 6.8 billion people. 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.
WHO will need at least 300 million doses for them, but at the moment it has pledged donations of only 200 million doses, said Marie-Paule Kieny, director of WHO's Initiative for Vaccine Research.
"We hope that the whole world will have some access to the vaccine," she said. "In some countries it will be possible to vaccinate the whole population and in some countries only 10 percent."
In the summer, two vaccine manufacturers, Sanofi Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline, agreed to donate a total of 150 million doses of pandemic vaccine to WHO. Last week, nine nations, including the United States, said they would give 10 percent of their supplies to WHO -- about 50 million doses in all, Kieny estimated. The donated vaccine should start being available in late October.
"We will do an assessment of a country's readiness to accept the vaccine," Kieny said in a teleconference with reporters. "Nobody wants the vaccine to be sent and sit in a warehouse for months."
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.
WHO estimates that the realistic global production of pandemic vaccine will be no more than 3 billion doses over 12 months.
Recent tests show that most adults and teenagers will need only one shot, not two as initially assumed. Infants, small children and people with certain medical conditions will probably need two.
Which age or risk groups will get the vaccine is up to each government. WHO has no authority to set a priority list. However, the organization is making a "strong recommendation" that health-care workers get it first.
Protecting nurses, physicians, technicians, and clerical workers in clinics and hospitals will help assure that health-care systems continue to function even at the peak of the epidemic. It will also reduce the chance that health-care workers -- likely to be the most exposed of any occupational group -- will transmit the virus to patients who are already ill.
While WHO does not favor compulsory vaccination, "nevertheless there are plenty of reasons for health workers to be willing to get vaccinated," Kieny said.
U.S. health officials on Thursday said that 6 million to 7 million doses of H1N1 vaccine would be available in the United States by the first week of October, which is about double what they had expected by that time. Most of the first doses of vaccine will be FluMist, which is administered via nasal spray. About 40 million doses of both FluMist and injectable vaccine should be available by the middle of October, with about 10 million to 20 million doses becoming available every week after that.
Staff writer Rob Stein contributed to this report.