Pandemic vaccine capacity boost6th November 2007
A global drive to produce vaccine to be used in the event of a flu pandemic has meant that vaccine is being made available for stockpiling quicker than was previously thought.
Recent scientific advances and increased vaccine manufacturing capacity are behind the rosier picture.
Previous estimates had forecast that 100 million courses of pandemic influenza vaccine based on the H5N1 avian influenza strain could be produced immediately with standard technology.
But capacity now looks likely to grow faster than expected, with a cumulative total of 4.5 billion pandemic immunization courses being made by 2010.
The revised projections have improved the outlook for global pandemic preparedness, according to Marie-Paule Kieny, Director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research at the World Health Organasation (WHO).
However, she warned that a total of 6.7 billion courses - one for every person on the planet - would be needed over a six-month period to protect everyone.
The pressure was still on to speed up preparedness strategies amid the threat of a pandemic, which experts fear may be caused if the H5N1 avian influenza virus mutates to a form that is easily transmissible between humans. Part of that mutation process has already been observed in one strain of the virus.
A substantial gap remained between supply and demand, Kieny said.
One technical advance which has helped the situation is the discovery that a water-in-oil delivery method for the pandemic vaccines enables far less of the precious antigen - which stimulates the immune response - to be used per dose.
WHO experts and officials are also discussing plans to further boost production capacity for the pandemic vaccines. They plan to continue strongly to support the seasonal influenza vaccination programme, and to use production capacity off-season to make pandemic vaccines.
They are also exploring ways for a quick change of manufacturing facilities from inactivated to live, but weakened, influenza vaccines. Such a switch would take place at the start of a pandemic, as soon as the pandemic strain was isolated from the first infections.
It is hoped that the industry will be in a position to make enough vaccine for everyone on the planet within a six-month period by 2012, WHO said in a statement.
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