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WHO Stops Tracking H1N1 Cases

“In a move that caught many public health experts by surprise, the WHO quietly announced Thursday that it would stop tracking swine flu cases and deaths around the world,” the New York Times reports. According to the newspaper, the announcement “perplexed some experts, and even baffled a WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl,” who “earlier in the day … had confirmed Argentina, with 137 swine flu deaths since June, had surpassed Mexico, where the epidemic began in February, as the country with second largest number of swine flu deaths.” While the last WHO updated indicated nearly 95,000 people worldwide had been infected with H1N1, “[m]any epidemiologists have pointed out that, in reality, millions of people have had swine flu, usually in a mild form, so the numbers of laboratory-confirmed cases were actually meaningless” while tests “overwhelmed national laboratories,” according to the New York Times (McNeil, 7/16).

The WHO has asked countries who have yet to confirm cases of H1N1 (swine flu) to report their first cases to the organization and advises countries to watch for unexpected clusters of severe or fatal cases of H1N1 or “unexpected, unusual or notable changes in patterns of transmission” (WHO Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 briefing note 3, 7/16).

Obama Releases $1.8B To Prepare U.S. For H1N1

President Obama on Thursday released $1.825 billion for emergency use to enhance the capabilities of the U.S. to prepare for H1N1, Reuters reports. The money – that comes “from $7.65 billion Congress already appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services for the swine flu pandemic” – “will go to buy vaccine ingredients, to help health officials plan immunization campaigns and to help get the vaccines approved at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Obama said in a letter to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” the news service writes (7/16).

U.S. Vaccine Maker Not Taking More H1N1 Vaccine Orders, Potential ‘Scramble’ Over Vaccines ‘Brewing’

“While at least 50 governments have placed orders or are negotiating with drug companies for supplies of flu vaccine against the fast spreading H1N1 strain, the lone U.S.-based maker [Baxter International] has already taken on as much as it can handle,” Reuters writes. Chris Bona, a spokesman for Baxter International “said [Thursday] the company has agreed to allocate a portion of its commercial production to the WHO to address global public health issues,” the news service writes (Berkrot, 7/16).

Representatives of the drug makers Novartis and Baxter International who are in the process of developing an H1N1 vaccine on Thursday spoke out about the problems they are having “yielding a large amount of active ingredient,” which could push back the H1N1 vaccine delivery, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the newspaper, “The WHO is attempting to tweak the virus into a new copy that might yield more vaccine” (Whalen, 7/16).

“An ugly scramble is brewing over the swine flu vaccine — and when it becomes available, Britain, the United States and other nations could find that the contracts they signed with pharmaceutical companies are easily broken,” the AP/Google.com reports. “Experts warn that during a global epidemic, which the world is in now, governments may be under tremendous pressure to protect their own citizens first before allowing companies to ship doses of vaccine out of the country,” which “does not bode well for many countries, including the United States, which makes only 20 percent of the flu vaccines it uses, or Britain, where all of its flu vaccines are produced abroad,” the news service writes.

The news service notes, “[a]bout 70 percent of the world’s flu vaccines are made in Europe, and only a handful of countries are self-sufficient in vaccines,” with the U.S. having “limited flu vaccine facilities,” adding that “[i]f swine flu turns deadlier in the winter, the main flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, countries will likely be clamoring for” available vaccines. The article compares several countries plans for mass vaccination campaigns to the country location of the vaccine manufacturers that will produce the H1N1 vaccine (Cheng, 7/16).

The AFP/Google.com reports on how a spike in the numbers of H1N1-related deaths in Britain, has led the governments of Britain, Portugal and France to announce massive H1N1 vaccine orders even though WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has noted the vaccine will not be available for months. The country orders include: 132 million doses from Britain, a 94 million dose order from France and 6 million dose order from Portugal. “Neither [Portugal or France] has reported a death from swine flu,” according to the news service (7/16).

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on Thursday criticized wealthy nations of blocking developing countries from receiving H1N1 vaccines by booking up production capacity, the Mail Online reports (7/17).