Friday, 19 June 2009 14:01
Sanofi-aventis, a French global healthcare company that makes vaccines announced on Wednesday that it will be giving the World Health Organization (WHO) 100 million doses of vaccine for H1N1 swine flu so it can distribute them to the countries that most need them.
Sanofi-aventis Chief Executive Officer Christopher A Viehbacher told the opening session of the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle, Washington that he wanted to back WHO Director General's call for common action.
"Exceptional times require exceptional responses. We need to act responsibly and we all have to play our part," said Viehbacher.
"That is the reason why we intend to donate 100 million doses of influenza vaccine to the World Health Organization (WHO) to help developing countries face the influenza pandemic," he added.
Although the WHO says it has now received reports of nearly 40,000 worldwide lab-confirmed cases of novel A(H1N1) swine flu, including 167 deaths, and has raised the status level to phase 6, indicating global pandemic, the organization has not yet said anything about who should get vaccinated.
Also, because this strain has not infected people before, it is not clear if one or two doses will be needed to achieve full immunization.
Vaccine producers are just coming to the end of producing seasonal flu vaccine, after which they will start making vaccine against the new swine flu virus. It will be several weeks before the first batches are ready, which is probably too late for countries in the southern hemisphere who are about to enter the height of their annual flu season.
Swine flu is now reaching southern countries that have not reported cases before. Earlier today South Africa joined the list, with a new case of swine flu in a 12-year old boy recently returned from the US.
WHO estimate world capacity to produce swine flu vaccine is about 4.9 billion, which is not enough to vaccinate a world population of 6.5 billion, and if two shots are needed, then it will barely reach half that number.
Viehbacher said that sanofi-aventis will reserve 10 per cent of its swine flu vaccine for the WHO to help developing countries fight the pandemic. Over and above the 100 million doses it will donate, the company will offer additional doses at discounted prices to developing countries, depending on production capacity, reported the Associated Press.
British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline said they will do the same, and have offered to donate 50 million doses of swine flu vaccine for the WHO to distribute to developing countries. They said last week that they would be ready to start large scale production within weeks.
According to the AP report, Novartis, another major vaccine maker based in Switzerland have decided not to go down the donation route.
Company spokesman Eric Althoff said on Wednesday that the company would prefer to find a more sustainable way to support developing countries than one time donations. They are considering selling vaccines at discounted prices instead, he said.