UN health agency projects dramatic expansion of flu vaccine stocks
The projected supply of influenza vaccines in case of a global pandemic has soared this year, but medical officials should accelerate rather than relax their efforts to prepare for an outbreak, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) warned today.
Experts anticipate that the world will be capable of producing 4.5 billion pandemic immunization courses per year by 2010, WHO said in a press release issued at its headquarters in Geneva.
This compares to the 100 million courses of vaccine based on the H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu) strain that WHO and vaccine manufacturers earlier this year projected could be produced immediately with standard technology.
WHO attributed the dramatic surge to a combination of recent scientific advances and increased vaccine manufacturing capacity worldwide.
Manufacturers have been able to step up production capacity of trivalent (three viral strains) seasonal influenza vaccines to an estimated 565 million doses, compared to the 350 million doses produced last year.
New vaccines also need less antigen – the substance that stimulates an individual’s immune response – in each dose, making it easier to produce more.
Marie-Paule Kieny, Director of WHO’s Initiative for Vaccine Research, said “we are beginning to be in a much better position vis-à-vis the threat of an influenza pandemic. However, although this is significant progress, it is still far from the 6.7 billion immunization courses that would be needed in a six-month period to protect the whole world.”
Dr. Kieny called for preparations to accelerate, backed by political and financial support, so that the gap between supply and demand can be bridged.