Glaxo to donate flu vaccine for poor
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline PLC has agreed to donate 50 million doses of H5N1 vaccine to the World Health Organization in an attempt to create a pandemic vaccine stockpile for poor countries, company officials announced Wednesday.
The vaccines will be delivered over a three-year period and should provide enough doses for 25 million people; two shots per person will be needed.
"This is excellent news," said Dr. John Oxford, a professor of virology at London's Queen Mary School of Medicine. "It's just what we need to reassure countries like Indonesia that they will get something in return from the viruses they provide, which will form the basis of these vaccines," Oxford said.
Until recently, Indonesia had refused to share its H5N1 virus samples with WHO, claiming that they would be used by pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines it and other poor countries could not afford.
"By having this vaccine stockpile, we will have a way to help reward countries like Indonesia and Vietnam who have provided virus samples in the past," Oxford said.
Still, if it is another flu subtype that causes the next pandemic — such as H7 or H9 — vaccines based on H5N1 will most likely be useless.
While the stockpile is a reassuring development in pandemic preparedness planning, many questions remain. WHO has not said how the vaccine stockpile might be distributed — a key concern since nearly every country worldwide will be clamouring for vaccine to save its population during a pandemic.
Nor has WHO addressed the question of how the vaccines might be delivered. In most countries that will need the vaccine, health infrastructures are weak and it is uncertain if people could get the vaccine, even if it were available.
And because no one knows how long flu vaccine remains effective, it is unknown how frequently the stockpile will need to be replenished. "It probably won't just wither away after a few years, but we really don't know," said Oxford.
Many of these questions, including the operational details of where the stockpile would be kept, will be addressed by WHO and partners in the coming months.
Other vaccine producers, including Sanofi-Aventis AS, Baxter Healthcare Corp., and Omnivest, a Hungarian pharmaceutical, have also told WHO they would be willing to contribute to a vaccine stockpile.
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