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WHO To Review Its Handling Of H1N1 Pandemic

Amid recent complaints that the WHO exaggerated the threat of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, the agency announced Tuesday an upcoming independent review of the agency’s handling of the pandemic, Agence France-Presse reports (1/12).

“Criticism is part of an outbreak cycle,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said, the Cape Times reports. “We expect and indeed welcome criticism and the chance to discuss it.” Chaib added that the final results of the review would be made public (Lynn, 1/13).

“Countries want to know if WHO’s advice to stockpile millions of dollars of vaccine was valid,” CBC News writes. “Many countries ordered two doses of H1N1 vaccine for their citizens before researchers determined one dose would suffice for adults,” and as a result, some are now facing a vaccine surplus, “and are sending doses to other countries or trying to sell it,” CBC News writes (1/12).

BBC reports that the Council of Europe intends to investigate “whether pharmaceutical companies influenced public health officials to spend money unnecessarily” (Foulkes, 1/12).

Because the pandemic is ongoing, the WHO has not set a start date for the review, agency spokeswoman Christy Feig said, Bloomberg reports. “WHO Director-General Margaret Chan is scheduled to brief the agency’s executive board on actions taken in the response to the pandemic at a meeting in Geneva starting Jan. 18,” the news service adds (Gale, 1/13).

News Outlets Examine Polish Government’s Refusal Of H1N1 Vaccine, Vaccine Shortage In Mexico

In related news, the AP examines the Polish government’s decision early on to reject the H1N1 vaccine amid warnings of a pandemic. The article contrasts the Polish government’s pandemic response to that of the U.S. and other European countries, including comments by those who support and oppose Poland’s stance. Some worry “the government’s luck in dodging massive problems with swine flu will only encourage it to ignore future epidemics as well,” the news service writes (Gera, 1/13).

Meanwhile, the AP in another article reports that “Mexico – the epicenter of last year’s swine flu outbreak – has received less than half of the 30 million vaccine doses it ordered last year, the country’s health secretary, [Jose Angel Cordova], said Tuesday.” To date, the country has received 12 million doses of H1N1 vaccines, including a loan of 5 million doses from Canada, Cordova said, pointing to the fact there are no vaccine manufacturers in the country as a source of the delay.

Despite the H1N1 vaccine shortage, “Cordova said Mexico’s vaccination program was on track, with officials hoping to vaccinate 24 million Mexicans by March in a country of more than 105 million people,” the AP writes. The article examines how similar vaccine shortages could prove more serious in the future and the plans for drug maker Sanofi-Aventis to open a manufacturing plant in the country in 2012 (Shoichet, 1/12).

A Reuters factbox includes information on how several countries are handling their surplus of H1N1 vaccines. According to Reuters, Switzerland plans to donate or sell 4.5 million doses of H1N1 vaccines (Hirschler/Kelland, 1/12).