Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline will donate influenza vaccines to WHO

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The drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis will donate millions of doses of a vaccine that offers protection against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus to the WHO once the vaccine is ready, the company's chief executive officer announced Tuesday, Reuters reports (Elsner, Reuters, 6/17).

The AP/Google.com writes, "Exceptional times require exceptional responses. We need to act responsibly and we all have to play our part," Sanofi CEO Christopher Viehbacher said in a statement released during the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle. "This flexible donation aims to help the WHO address the needs of these most vulnerable populations," he said.

Viehbacher said Sanofi will give a total of 100 million doses of swine flu and bird flu vaccines, according to the AP/Google.com (Johnson, AP/Google.com, 6/17). "In the event that Sanofi Pasteur's manufacturing facilities become fully committed to the production of pandemic vaccine," the company will offer the vaccine to developing countries at a reduced rate, according to a company statement (Sanofi-Aventis release, 6/17).

As drug makers continue to work on developing a viable H1N1 vaccine, the WHO has held off on "whether people should get vaccinated against H1N1, which has spread to all regions of the world," Reuters writes. "WHO has estimated vaccine makers could produce up to 4.9 billion pandemic flu shots a year in a best-case scenario, leaving some of the world's 6.5 billion population unprotected, particularly if more than one dose was needed" (Reuters, 6/17).

A GlaxoSmithKline spokesman told Bloomberg the company also plans to donate 50 million doses of an H1N1 vaccine to the WHO. Bloomberg writes, "The decisions by Sanofi and Glaxo contrast with that of Novartis AG, which said this week it wouldn't donate the vaccine," but "may look at pricing and other ways to assure access." The company's resistance toward donating vaccines to developing countries stems from their belief "[d]onations won't address the current pandemic or create sustainable access, [Novartis spokesman Eric] Althoff said."

"In principle, I agree that you don't want to rely on donations, they are not a sustainable model," Sanofi's Viehbacher said. "But a pandemic is an exceptional event, it's not on-going. We have to do what we can to help the WHO fight [influenza]" (Kelley/Torsoli, Bloomberg, 6/17).

"WHO has confirmed nearly 36,000 cases globally with 163 deaths, although flu experts say there are almost certainly hundreds of thousands of cases," due to the fact, "Doctors do not test every person with symptoms," Reuters writes (Reuters, 6/17). Country specific information is available here (WHO Influenza A(H1N1) - update 50, 6/17).

Flu Season In Southern Hemisphere

AFP/Google.com examines growing concerns over the H1N1 virus threat in South America with vaccine manufacturers "still months away from having enough stocks - too late for the Southern Hemisphere's winter flu season."

Researchers at Adolfo Lutz Bacteriological Institute in Brazil announced Tuesday that they had identified a new strain of the H1N1 virus in a patient from Sao Paulo. "It was not yet known whether that variant, called A/Sao Paulo/1454/H1N1, was more aggressive than the more common type," the AFP/Google.com writes (AFP/Google.com, 6/17).  According to Fox News, scientists found the new strain following analysis of samples taken from a 26-year-old patient hospitalized with the H1N1 flu in April, who "has since made a full recovery" (Fox News, 6/17).

H1N1 Might Be Developing Antiviral Resistance

There are signs the H1N1 virus is developing resistance to the antiviral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu), prompting "medical experts to exercise caution when prescribing the antiviral drugs in patients with flu symptoms," the Bangkok Post reports. According to the newspaper, the topic will be addressed during a WHO meeting today as well as ways developing countries can best contain the pandemic.

"Thailand resorted heavily to oseltamivir when treating patients with suspected and confirmed bird flu but experienced an increase in cases developing a resistance to the drug," the newspaper writes (Treerutkuarkul/Intathep, Bangkok Post, 6/18).


Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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