- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GENEVA | As the world prepares for what some say could become a swine flu pandemic, a group of manufacturers from emerging nations told a high-level global meeting here Tuesday that they would provide 10 percent of their production of A/H1N1 vaccine to the United Nations at affordable prices.

The commitment was made during a meeting of top executives from more than 30 vaccine companies, members of the Developing Country Vaccine Manufacturers Network.

The offer from the umbrella group, which includes companies from China, India, Brazil, Mexico and other emerging nations, ups the ante on vaccine companies in rich nations to make generous offers.

Companies in the network include China National Biotec, Birmex of Mexico, Biofarma of Indonesia and Serum Institute of India Ltd.

The goal of the gathering, hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, was to get assurance from industry that, in the event of a pandemic, vaccines would also available on the principle of “equity and fairness” to poorer nations.



A new assessment by an advisory group released Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) says that up to 4.9 billion doses of an A/H1N1 vaccine could be produced over a 12-month period after the initiation of full-scale production under optimal conditions.

This represents a bigger output then the 1 billion to 2 billion doses estimated earlier.

Experts say it could take between four and six months from the time a seed strain is identified and provided to manufacturers until full-scale production could begin after human trials and all safety protocols are strictly met.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told the annual world health assembly here, “U.S. government agencies are working together in an unprecedented way to develop a vaccine and ensure that production of seasonal flu vaccine continues.”

Similarly, Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC is working with other laboratories around the world to try and develop seed strain of the virus by the end of May.

But Dr. Besser voiced concerns about a possible reassortment of the A/H1N1 virus with a more potent virus like H5N1, also known as bird flu.

“We need to be vigilant and test it as it spreads,” he said.

While the A/H1N1 has so far had a mortality ratio of 1.9 percent in neighboring Mexico where most deaths have been reported, the very potent H5N1 has a mortality of between 50 percent and 60 percent.

“There was a lot of good will among all the companies present and they got the message clearly from both Mr. Ban and Dr. Chan that they have to help the poor if a pandemic strikes,” said a U.N. official who took part in the closed-door meeting.

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