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Declaration of H1N1 Pandemic To Accelerate H1N1 Vaccine Production

The WHO’s decision Thursday to declare H1N1 (swine) flu a pandemic will “speed the production of a vaccine against the new virus,” however scientists continue to caution that “it will be fall at the earliest before the first doses are available,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Scientists have encountered some problems in paving the way for such a vaccine. The H1N1 virus grows more slowly in eggs than the seasonal flu virus does, so it has taken longer than expected to prepare the seed stocks of virus that manufacturers will use to start production. … Preliminary tests also suggest that higher than normal amounts of killed virus will be required to produce the necessary immune response, which could also slow the manufacturing process,” the newspaper writes.

According to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, it will likely be September before the first doses of an H1N1 vaccine become available “and even then, ‘there will be limited supply of vaccine,’ she said. ‘The challenge to the world will be to look at who should get the vaccine and, within a country, which groups get the vaccine'” (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 6/12).

Novartis AG, announced Friday it “has successfully produced a first batch of swine flu vaccine weeks ahead of expectations,” the AP/Wall Street Journal reports (AP/Wall Street Journal, 6/12). Rather than using the traditional method for vaccine production that requires adapting a virus strain to grow in eggs, Novartis instead used “cell-based manufacturing technology,” shaving “weeks off the time required to begin vaccine production,” the company said. The company “will start clinical trials in July and expects to be able to ramp up manufacture rapidly,” according to Reuters (Reid, Reuters, 6/12).

WHO Director-General Expresses Concern About ‘How Virus Will Behave’ In Developing Countries

Inter Press Service News Agency examines statements made by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan Thursday about her concerns over the H1N1 spreading to low- and middle-income countries. “(P)erhaps of greatest concern, we do not know how this virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world,” Chan said. “To date, the vast majority of cases have been detected and investigated in comparatively well-off countries.”

“Although the pandemic appears to have moderate severity in comparatively well-off countries, it is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads to areas with limited resources, poor health care, and a high prevalence of underlying medical problems,” said Chan. “Chan said the WHO has sent anti-flu medication to 131 countries in the developing world,” IPS writes (Capdevila, IPS, 6/11).

In the face of the H1N1 pandemic “China is much better prepared now” than it was during the country’s 2003 SARS outbreak, according to WHO’s China chief, the AP/Google.com reports (AP/Google.com, 6/12).

According to the WHO, 74 countries have officially reported 29,669 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection, including 145 deaths.  Country specific information is available here (WHO Influenza A(H1N1) – update 48, 6/12).

War-Spending Bill To Include $7.65B For ‘Flu-Fighting Preparations’

“House and Senate leaders agreed Thursday night on a $106 billion spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, paving the way for congressional passage next week,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The bill includes “$7.65 billion for flu-fighting preparations” (Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, 6/12). 

Former Senators Say U.S. ‘Not Doing Enough To Prepare For Disease Emergencies’

“The 2009 H1N1 swine flu epidemic should remind Americans of two important truths: Mother Nature is full of surprises, and preparation matters,” write former Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, in a The Hill opinion piece. The U.S. “is not doing enough to prepare for disease emergencies, either natural or deliberate,” they argue.

Despite lessons learned and partnerships formed in the years since the avian flu outbreak, the authors write, “We should immediately commit to doing more: by innovating drug and vaccine development; increasing funding for public health and hospital readiness; and improving international cooperation surveillance and response.”

“Improving the infrastructure to respond to a public health crisis is an opportunity for U.S. national security and for global American leadership, technical innovation, and economic stimulus,” the authors note. “The United States has an opportunity to lead the world by innovating how vaccines and medicines are made, so that they can be made more rapidly and less expensively.”

“Now, before the next public health emergency, is the time to invest in our nation’s ability to respond to a public health emergency, so that we will have the tools we need to prevent, contain, and treat disease,” the authors conclude (Graham/Talent, Hill, 6/11).