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GSK To Donate 50M H1N1 Vaccine Doses To WHO In Coming Months

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline announced plans on Tuesday to donate 50 million doses of its H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine to the WHO for use in developing countries within the next few months, Reuters reports. “We expect to start receiving [the first of the H1N1 doses] at the end of the month or early December and that the full 50 million will come by the end of spring,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said, adding, “We hope it is the first of many donations.”

“This is a real gesture of global solidarity towards those who would not be otherwise able to have access to the vaccine,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a statement. “WHO will now work to see that these vaccines are distributed to those who need them.” The WHO currently has a “list of 95 developing countries eligible to receive donated vaccines” and will aim to secure “enough vaccines to cover 10 percent of their populations,” the news service writes. (Nebehay/MacInnis, 11/10).

In related news, NPR’s “Morning Edition” reports on how U.S. shortages of the antiviral Tamiflu have led CDC to consider “importing a generic flu drug from India.” Antiflu, produced by the company Cipla, “costs 20 to 30 percent less than the brand-name drug. … There’s just one problem: Tamiflu, the brand-name drug, is still under U.S. patent,” according to NPR.

“To import Antiflu before 2016, the U.S. government would have to override patent law, which it would likely only do in a real emergency,” NPR writes. Though Antiflu has been approved by the WHO, it has not yet received FDA approval. The piece examines Cipla’s history as a producer of generic drugs that the company sells at “cheap prices in the developing world” – “[t]he most famous of these is Cipla’s generic anti-retroviral drug. … In developed countries, anti-retrovirals cost around $6,000 per patient per year; the Indian generic version is available in the developing world for $800.” The piece also includes comments by the chairman of Cipla (11/10).

In other news, Reuters reports on pilgrims preparing for the annual hajj: “Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the virus a pandemic in June, experts feared that the 3 million pilgrims, from over 160 countries, congregating around Mecca’s holy sites this month will aid in the transmission of the virus, initiate waves of outbreaks worldwide and strain healthcare systems,” the news service writes.

According to Reuters, “About 580,000 pilgrims have so far arrived to the Western region of Saudi Arabia, site of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, in preparation for the pilgrimage that will start on November 26.” The article includes details on how Saudi authorities are attempting to conduct health screens on pilgrims as they arrive at airports and sea ports (Alsharif, 11/10).