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WHO To Give Poor Countries Flu Vaccine Technology

Tue, 02/24/2009 - 3:45am
By FRANK JORDANS Associated Press Writer GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization said Tuesday that a deal with U.S. drug maker Schering-Plough Corp. will allow it to provide poor countries with improved vaccine-making technology to prepare for a possible flu pandemic. WHO will license the technology free of charge to vaccine manufacturers in developing countries who take part in a U.N. action plan to stop a global outbreak of the deadly H5N1 flu strain. Schering-Plough, based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, said in a statement that the new technology allows vaccines to be delivered more efficiently using a single-dose intranasal spray. A recent study by the pharmaceutical industry group IFPMA found that if an H5N1 pandemic outbreak occurred today, manufacturers would likely need four years to meet global demand for a vaccine. Vaccine makers have increased their capacity threefold in the last two years thanks to improved production yields and new dose-saving technologies, IFPMA said. Even in a "best case scenario" where vaccines are produced in the most efficient possible way it would currently take one-and-a-half years to meet global demand. With efforts under way to ramp up global vaccine production capacity, the time it would take to make enough vaccines for everybody can be reduced to between one and two-and-half years by 2014, according to the study. Marie-Paule Keany, the head of WHO's vaccine research initiative, welcomed the increased production rate but noted that manufacturers were seeing a growing gap between capacity and demand. Until a deadly pandemic occurs, drug makers are using their factories to produce seasonal influenza vaccines, which are recommended in many countries for elderly and weak people most at risk from common flu. "To keep operating plants which are not producing anything is costly," Keany said. "If they close them down, they de facto also close down capacity to produce pandemic vaccine."
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