(Recsts, adds background)
CANBERRA, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Australia has ordered 21 million doses of swine flu vaccine, with mass vaccinations to start nationally within weeks, the government said on Thursday.
Two million doses of the vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd (CSL.AX) would be distributed to doctors from next week, with pregnant women, the chronically ill and health workers getting treatment first.
“I think it’s anticipated by the middle or end of September we will be starting to vaccinate the priority groups that, of course, are the most vulnerable,” Health Minister Nicola Roxon told reporters.
Australia is in the middle of the southern hemisphere winter and flu season and has 32,224 confirmed cases of H1N1, with 121 deaths associated with the pandemic. Most cases are in the most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria.
The Geneva-based United Nations agency declared H1N1 a full pandemic in June. It has now spread to nearly 180 countries.
In its latest update last week, the WHO said laboratory-confirmed deaths from the flu strain totalled at least 1,462. While the WHO says at least 177,000 people have caught the disease the real number is probably in the millions. (Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Michael Perry)