* Vaccine makers pledge to work on swine flu if needed
* WHO works to secure doses for poor countries
* U.S. officials worry about drug resistance
By Katie Reid and Laura MacInnis
GENEVA, May 19 Companies could potentially turn
out 4.9 billion doses of vaccine against the new H1N1 influenza
strain within a year under the best-case scenario, World Health
Organization officials said on Tuesday.
WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan told reporters after
a meeting with 30 pharmaceutical companies that WHO was working
to secure supplies of vaccine for poor countries in case of a
U.S. health officials said they were finding
higher-than-expected numbers of cases of seasonal influenza
still circulating and worried that a drug-resistant strain may
mix with the new H1N1 swine flu strain to create a dangerous
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was
essential for drugmakers to work with governments to avert the
worst potential impacts of the new H1N1 strain, which has
killed 81 people and been confirmed in nearly 10,000 globally.
"Partnerships with the private sector are absolutely
vital," Ban told representatives of the WHO's 193 member
governments gathered in Geneva, urging them to think beyond
their borders in their response to the H1N1 strain.
Six companies have pledged to make 10 percent of the
vaccine they produce available for distribution to poor
countries, and eight are in talks about donations, said Gelmer
Leibbrandt, general manager of Schering-Plough's SGP.N
vaccine unit Nobilon.
Chan said that vaccine makers have shown a very serious
commitment to help the international community prepare for a
pandemic of flu, which, while seemingly mild so far, could
become more severe as it circles the globe.
Questions remain about whether an H1N1-only vaccine is
needed in the near term -- especially if its production cuts
the world's supply of immunizations for seasonal flu, which is
involved in the deaths of up to 500,000 people a year and
causes severe illness in millions.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
said pharmaceutical companies should ramp up their production
of seasonal flu vaccine and then later switch to pandemic
injection making if necessary.
"There is still so much uncertainty about this virus that
it is really premature for us to even make a determination
about how many people would appropriately be vaccinated, in
what order, how many doses will be required, at what point. All
those discussions are still very much under way," Sebelius
WHO said companies plan to produce approximately 480
million doses of seasonal vaccine in 2009 -- each one
containing three separate vaccines against the three most
common circulating flu strains.
The agency said 430 million doses would be available by
"For influenza A (H1N1), it is estimated that up to 4.9
billion doses could be produced over a 12-month period after
the initiation of full-scale production," WHO said in a
statement. That assumes it is as easy to make a vaccine against
the new H1N1 virus as it is for seasonal flu, and that the
vaccine could be stretched out to the maximum.
"In this situation, there is a potential access for the UN
of supplies of up to 400 million doses," WHO said.
In Mexico, the Health Ministry updated the death toll to 74
on Tuesday as confirmations came in that people who died were
in fact infected with the swine flu strain. It said confirmed
swine flu cases now total 3,734.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said
there have been 5,469 confirmed cases of the new flu and has
said this is only the tip of the iceberg. CDC acting director
Dr. Richard Besser estimated last week there were 100,000
Officials in St. Louis County, Missouri, reported a seventh
U.S. death from the new flu on Tuesday, a 44-year-old man.
The CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat said she was worried the new
strain may mix with seasonal flu strains, which are still
The seasonal H1N1 strain is now resistant to the most
commonly used antiviral -- Roche AG's ROG.VX Tamiflu.
GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK.L) Relenza, an inhaled drug, still
"The particular risk here ... is that co-circulation of
this new virus together with the seasonal strains might put us
at risk for there to be a reassortment event," Schuchat said.
Reassortment is the viral equivalent of sex -- two viruses
can meet and swap entire stretches of their genetic material.
Flu viruses are especially prone to this and some pandemics
have emerged because of this genetic mixing.
California state health officials released details of 30 of
the early serious cases of H1N1 there, including a prematurely
born baby who was infected in the hospital, five pregnant women
and several people with serious medical conditions.
"About two-thirds of the patients ... had at least one
underlying condition that put them at risk," Schuchat said. She
said many patients were obese and that the CDC was
investigating whether obesity may be a special risk factor for
(Additional reporting by Robert Campbell in Mexico City;
writing by Maggie Fox; editing by Mohammad Zargham)