WHO: H1N1 Vaccine Production Less than Expected

Friday a WHO-spokesman said, annual production of H1N1 vaccine appears to be "substantially less" than the 4.9 billion doses the World Health Organisation (WHO) previously forecast was possible.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said that based on clinical test results from some 25 drugmakers, weekly production was less than 94 million doses, although it seemed one dose would be enough to give immunity against the swine flu strain.

"The real figure will be substantially less than 4.9 billion," Hartl told reporters.

The WHO previously forecast one third of the world's nearly seven billion people could be affected by the H1N1 pandemic, but so far the vast majority of victims are suffering only mild symptoms.

Hartl gave no exact new forecast but noted WHO's previous estimate of 4.9 billion had been based on drugmakers switching all production of seasonal flu vaccine to the new vaccine against the H1N1 strain and getting good yields, Reuters reports.

It was also reported, the state Department of Public Health this week issued an alert to doctors, urging them to hold off on large vaccination campaigns at public clinics and schools for about a month. As a result, doctors and nurses may wind up dispensing vaccine against both seasonal flu and the swine strain at the same time.

“Unfortunately, we have recently learned . . . that the scheduled delivery for the remaining doses of seasonal flu vaccine will not be as accelerated as originally anticipated, due to prioritization of [swine flu] vaccine and other challenges,’’ the state told doctors.

Massachusetts, one of the biggest government buyers of flu vaccine in the nation, had placed orders for 880,000 seasonal flu doses. So far, the state has distributed close to 400,000 doses to doctors and clinics, and 100,000 more are expected in about a week, said John Auerbach, state commissioner of public health.

Manufacturers expect to produce enough seasonal flu vaccine for ev eryone who wants it - just not as soon as forecast. Health authorities had banked on most of the vaccine being available by the end of this month; now, that’s being pushed back to late October or early November.

In part, it reflects an unexpected scientific challenge. The seasonal vaccine is brewed to thwart three different strains, and one of them - from the “B’’ family - proved especially difficult to work with.

In part, it reflects the frenzy of activity at vaccine manufacturers, which , in addition to making seasonal vaccine, are churning out nearly 200 million doses against the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu.

“Every flu season has challenges, and this one is not without its challenges,’’ said Donna Cary, a spokeswoman for the biggest maker of seasonal vaccine, Sanofi Pasteur. “We thought we had accommodated for that, but in addition to the low yielding ‘B’ strain, we’re also producing the pandemic vaccine, and producing both in one year limits our flexibility in scheduling shipments,’’Boston Globe reports.

Australian health authorities approved a vaccine for H1N1 influenza, which will be rolled out across the country from September, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said on Friday.

"There is going to be sufficient vaccine for everyone," Roxon told reporters in Canberra, adding Australia would be one of the first countries to protect its population from the H1N1 virus.

Australia has ordered 21 million doses of the vaccine from pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd, Reuters reports.

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