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WHO Emphasizes H1N1 Vaccine Safety

The WHO on Tuesday continued to express confidence in the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine as few mild adverse effects have been reported by patients participating in China’s vaccine campaign, the Associated Press reports. Out of the 39,000 people in China who received the H1N1 vaccine, four reported experiencing side effects such as muscle cramps and headache, according to WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl (Higgins, 10/6).

“Adverse events are fully to be expected, especially these mild types,” Hartl told journalists Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reports. “The vaccine is the single most important tool that we have against influenza,” he said, adding he believes it vital for health care workers (10/6).

Hartl emphasized the safety of the H1N1 vaccines, “which have already been approved, have been used for years and years and years in their seasonal vaccine formulation and have been shown to be among the safest vaccines that exist,” Reuters reports (Nebehay, 10/6).

In a second story, Reuters examines several scenarios of how the H1N1 pandemic will play out as the second wave of the virus moves through the Northern hemisphere.

“Whatever the virus does, the world lacks the capacity to vaccinate most of the population against flu,” leaving poor nations dependent upon the H1N1 vaccine donations over wealthy countries, Reuters writes. Though “the first wave of the swine flu pandemic affected wealthier nations like the United States, Australia and Japan, where it is still active,” the U.N’s senior technical expert on influenza, Julie Hall, said there is now evidence “that the virus is beginning to penetrate into some of the poorest communities in the world” (Fox, 10/6).

In related news, SabaNews.net reports Abdul Kareem Rasa, Morocco’s minister of public health and population, on Tuesday appealed to the WHO for one million doses of the H1N1 vaccine for Muslim pilgrims from poor countries (10/6).

Saudi Arabian health officials say they are prepared to “welcome some three million pilgrims during the annual hajj to Mecca in December amid the heightened alert on the swine flu pandemic,” the AFP reports. In addition to calling upon hajj participants to receive the seasonal flu shot and, if available, the H1N1 vaccine, a Saudi health official said the country has four million doses of vaccine and hospitals prepared to deal with H1N1. The AFP notes, “Saudi Arabia has to date reported 9,000 cases of swine flu and 35 deaths from the disease, one of the highest levels of contamination in the Arab world” (10/5).

Meanwhile, Chinese health officials reported that an 18-year-old women in Lhasa, the capital of the far western Tibet Autonomous Region, had become the country’s first death from H1N1, the Wall Street Journal reports (Canaves, 10/6). In response, the Chinese government “‘urgently’ sent 200,000 doses of influenza A (H1N1) vaccine to the region … in a bid to contain the virus, China’s health ministry said in a statement on its website,” AFP/Times of India reports (10/6).