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Wednesday 20th June 2018

Poor could miss out on flu vaccine

5th May 2009

Most vaccine developers are located in developed countries, and this could undermine the ability of developing countries to combat a swine flu pandemic.


A leading development organisation has warned that companies which make flu vaccines may have commitments they must meet to serve the needs of populations in those countries.

According to Sangeeta Shashikant, a researcher at the Third World Network, almost all of the world's vaccine production capacity is located in just nine developed countries.

She said that, in the event of a pandemic, the governments of these countries are likely to have entered into advance purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers, meaning that poorer countries will lose out in the event of an influenza pandemic.

Developing countries without their own manufacturing capacity would be forced to rely on the goodwill of other countries, or of pharmaceutical companies.

Developing countries have already been identified as being particularly vulnerable to the developing swine flu outbreak, which is on the threshold of developing into a full-fledged pandemic.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned that poorer countries had been hit hard by other crises this year, including food, energy, the global economy and climate change.

He said extra efforts would be needed to make sure they did not also get the worst of any public health crisis.

A handful of labs in developed countries are already taking samples of different strains of the swine flu virus from infected people in order to create a vaccine virus.

A vaccine virus is a version of the virus that contains the correct antigens against the swine flu strain but has been disabled so it does not actually cause disease in humans.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a process in place which would request manufacturers to switch from seasonal to pandemic vaccine production, but there would be a wait of six months before the vaccine became available.

The WHO has not yet initiated this process.

Pandemic flu vaccines targeted at the feared H5N1 avian influenza virus have already been donated to a WHO stockpile in case they can be pressed into service in the fight against swine flu, or H1N1.

GlaxoSmithKline has reportedly handed over 50 million doses and Sanofi 60 million doses, while Novartis has ppledged to follow suit.

Tachi Yamada — executive director of the global health programme at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said however that the swine flu pandemic was "a whole new ballgame".

Yamada said vaccine manufacturers were all quite aware of their role and responsibilities in reacting to this kind of crisis and were "interested in doing the right thing".

They were currently awaiting instructions from global health authorities, Yamada said.

The WHO is currently in talks with major pharmaceutical companies to assess their production capacity and the percentage of vaccine output that could go to poorer countries.

The WHO's Ravini Thenabadu said developing country access was of "the utmost importance".

Under WHO procedures, virus samples are sent to its own centres and may then be passed on to pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines.

In 2007, Indonesia refused to send any more bird flu samples until the government had negotiated a share of the benefits in the form of access to the final vaccines.

Critics say the current arrangement gives unfair access to crucial samples to drug companies who then make a profit from vaccine sales.

Solutions might include setting aside a percentage of the vaccine for developing countries to purchase at a reduced price, creating an emergency WHO stockpile of the vaccine and placing a portion of vaccine manufacturers' profits into a fund for developing countries.

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