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WHO, CDC Issue H1N1 Updates

Though H1N1 (swine flu) activity worldwide has slowed, the potential of a new wave of infections in the northern hemisphere in late winter or early spring remains viable, Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s top flu expert, said Monday at the start of the WHO’s weeklong executive board meeting, Reuters reports. The H1N1 pandemic “initially sparked widespread concern about antiviral and vaccine supplies, especially in developing countries, but many nations have cut back their vaccine orders recently because the pandemic has not turned out as deadly as originally feared,” the news service writes (Nebehay, 1/18).

The number of deaths from H1N1 since March 2009 reached nearly 14,000, “up from the 12,799 the U.N. health agency reported last week,” CBC News reports (1/15).

Reuters reports on the WHO’s latest updates on the deaths worldwide from H1N1 and the countries that continue to experience widespread H1N1 transmission in a second story. “[T]he WHO also said that while India’s infections may have peaked in December, neighboring Nepal and Sri Lanka were still experiencing widespread transmission,” the news service writes. “Morocco, Algeria and Egypt are continuing to see the active spread of H1N1 and some countries in Europe, including Romania, Ukraine, Turkey and Switzerland, are also reporting moderately intense rates of respiratory disease, the U.N. agency said.”

The H1N1 virus continues to be the main flu virus in Europe, northern Africa and parts of Asia, including China, with few reports of the seasonal flu, the U.N. added (MacInnis, 1/15).

Bloomberg/Seattle Times examines how the governments of several countries are working to rid themselves of H1N1 vaccine surpluses as demand for the vaccine declined. “Many are selling or donating the excess or slashing pending orders,” the news service writes. The article includes information on the growing anger in Germany and France over the amount of money the government spent on vaccines that may never be used and the criticisms by some that the WHO exaggerate the severity of the pandemic to serve the interests of the pharmaceutical industry (Gerlin, 1/17).

Amid such criticisms, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on Monday defended the agency’s response to the pandemic during the WHO board meeting, VOA News reports. “Dr. Chan says it is always better to err on the side of caution when dealing with public health issues,” the news service writes. “She says it is better to have a moderate pandemic with a large supply of vaccines, rather than a severe pandemic with inadequate supplies of vaccine,” according to VOA News (Schlein, 1/18).

Chan added that the world has been fortunate so far that the H1N1 pandemic has been moderate, Xinhua/CRIENGLISH.com reports. “The best health news of the previous decade is the fact that the long overdue influenza pandemic has been so moderate in its impact … We have remained fortunate up to now,” Chan said. Chan also noted the international community’s response to H1N1 (1/19).

CDC Updates Recent Numbers Of Americans Affected By H1N1

An estimated 11,000 Americans died from H1N1 since the virus emerged in April 2009, according to the CDC, the New York Times reports. The newspaper notes: “The estimate by the World Health Organization as of Jan. 3 was 12,799 deaths worldwide,” however, “[t]he two numbers are not directly comparable because the WHO counts only laboratory-confirmed deaths. Only a small fraction of all flu cases are tested by laboratories, especially in poor and middle-income countries, and many deaths that the flu causes are officially given other reasons, like pneumonia or heart failure” (McNeil, 1/16).

The release of the CDC’s latest H1N1 statistics on Friday also revealed that up 80 million Americans could been infected by the H1N1 virus, and more than 360,000 people could have been hospitalized, Reuters reports in a third story (Fox, 1/15).

“About 1 in 5 Americans have been vaccinated against swine flu, according to the government’s first detailed estimates of vaccination rates against the new pandemic,” the Associated Press/TIME reports. The report, based on two telephone interviews conducted in December and early January, found that an estimated 61 million received the H1N1 vaccine, according to the news service.

The report “shows that vaccination rates were a bit higher for people deemed to be especially vulnerable to the new influenza, including pregnant women, children and people with underlying health conditions. About 28 percent of the 160 million in those targeted groups got vaccine. The report also offered a specific estimate for children — about 29 percent of children ages 6 months through 18 years were vaccinated, CDC officials reported,” the news service writes (Stobbe, 1/15).

Greece , Norway, Belgium Cut H1N1 Vaccine Orders; Drugmakers Respond

Agence France-Presse reports on recent moves of governments in Greece and Norway to reduce H1N1 vaccine orders. Greece on Monday “cancelled 12.3 million of its flu vaccine orders, from a total of 16 million originally destined for the 11 million Greek population,” the news service reports. Norway reduced its order of H1N1 vaccines by 30 percent, according to the country’s health ministry (1/18). 

The Belgium health ministry on Friday announced its decision to reduce the country’s H1N1 vaccine order with GlaxoSmithKline by a third would save the government $47.6 million, Reuters reports (Deighton, 1/15).

A representative from the drugmaker Novartis on Friday said the company considers the contracts it had with governments for H1N1 vaccines binding, the Wall Street Journal reports. “One possible solution that could satisfy both ends of the bargaining table – drugmakers and governments – is to defer supply of the already ordered vaccine until it is needed for the next flu pandemic, a person familiar with the matter said,” the newspaper writes (Griel, 1/15).

In a second story, the Wall Street Journal examines the total sales earned by the drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline from H1N1 vaccine. The company “said Friday that swine-flu shipments, coupled with other pandemic vaccine products supplied to the U.S. and other governments in the three months ended Dec. 30, amounted to provisional sales of £835 million ($1.36 billion),” the newspaper writes. GlaxoSmithKline “said that it would continue to keep up shipments despite order cancellations after the swine-flu pandemic turned out to be milder than expected.” The company also plans to donate 60 million doses of its H1N1 vaccine to the WHO, the newspaper adds (Cauchi, 1/15).