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WHO reveals increase in pandemic flu vaccine production

The World Health Organisation says that scientific advances will augment production capacity of pandemic flu vaccines to over four billion doses a year by 2010

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said scientific advances will augment production capacity of pandemic flu vaccines to over four billion doses a year by 2010.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers, such as Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi-Pasteur, have been able to increase production of trivalent seasonal flu vaccines so far in 2007 to around 565m doses, compared with 350m in 2006, according to director of WHO's Initiative for Vaccine Research, Marie-Paul Kieny.

In a press conference, Kieny added: "With influenza vaccine production capacity on the rise, we are beginning to be in a much better position vis-a-vis the threat of an influenza pandemic."

Elsewhere, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) would be able to increase capacity to one billion doses in 2010, as long as there were significant demand, she stated.

In all, according to WHO, a total of approximately 4.5bn doses of pandemic vaccine will be available. Kieny stressed this was still far from WHO's original target of being able to provide a vaccine to all of the world's 6.7bn people within six months of a publicly declared pandemic.

WHO's special advisory group, which reports to director general Margaret Chan regarding vaccine availability and production, met in a private meeting last week and agreed to promote seasonal flu vaccine programmes to stimulate the necessary demand. The group hopes to encourage the pharmaceutical industry to keep production capacity going in advance of seasonal demand.

PMLive reported earlier in October that WHO had criticised the EU's ability to cope with any possible flu pandemic, citing a study conducted by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The study warned that many EU countries risked "chaotic service responses and public anxiety", if they allowed regional or local authorities to organise drug delivery during a pandemic and offering little or no guidance.

The study, which was published in the October issue of the WHO Bulletin, revealed: "Our findings show that even in Europe, which may be better prepared than some regions, considerable gaps and inconsistencies persist and several areas of operational planning have not been addressed."

The most prevalent fear is that the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which broke out in Asia in the 1990s, could mutate into a form transmissible between humans, triggering a global flu pandemic which could kill millions.

Unsterilised syringes kill 1.3 million each year
WHO has also revealed that almost 50 per cent of injections administered in developing countries involve the use of unsterilised needles and syringes, which then kill approximately 1.3m people each year.

WHO has been calling member nations to use needle-free devices or those with safety features, but these cost USD 0.15, compared with USD 0.03 for ordinary needles, which are widely used and re-used in poorer countries.

WHO said in a press statement: "Six billion injections are given globally with syringes or needles that are reused without sterilisation. This represents 40 per cent of all injections given in developing countries; in some countries, the proportion is as high as 70 per cent. The use of syringes with features that prevent re-use and needle stick injuries would avert about 1.3m global deaths per year by preventing infections and the epidemics caused by their spread."

30th September 2008

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