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WHO Group Hopes To Have Virus-Sharing Draft Agreement Finalized By Friday

Countries are narrowing in on a “deal to speed up their response to the next flu pandemic by sharing virus samples in return for access to affordable vaccines,” co-chairs of a WHO working group told reporters on Tuesday, Reuters reports. The group, which is meeting this week and just last week was in meetings with drug manufacturers and WHO member states about the plans, says it hopes to have a draft agreement finalized by Friday to be voted on during next month’s World Health Assembly, according to the news service (Nebehay, 4/12).

“In late 2006, virus-sharing became an international flash point when Indonesia broke a long tradition of free international sharing of flu virus specimens by withholding its H5N1 [bird flu] virus samples as a protest against the high cost of commercial vaccines derived from such samples,” CIDRAP News reports (Schnirring, 4/12). Although Indonesia resumed sharing the H5N1 virus in 2007, the issue highlighted “the problem of equitably distributing vaccines in the event of a pandemic,” Intellectual Property Watch writes.

The issue resurfaced during the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, when “Mexico, which swiftly shared the H1N1 virus in 2009, found that they did not receive the benefits from the sharing, with access to vaccines being restricted in Mexico due to limited stocks,” the news service continues. The article describes how intellectual property and drug pricing have figured into the negotiations over a plan that would ease virus-sharing, which began in 2007 (Saez, 4/12).

Reuters notes that “[t]he working group’s draft document calls for having deals in place ahead of a pandemic, including pre-purchase agreements with industry and governments to reserve a certain percentage of production capacity, for example 10 percent, earmarked for countries without access to vaccines” (4/12). Officials estimate “the global pandemic vaccine capacity has grown to 1.1 billion doses, which will expand to 1.8 billion doses as new companies in developing countries start producing vaccine through their collaborations with major producers,” according to CIDRAP News (4/12).