* WHO’s Chan blames others for delay in vaccine distribution
* U.N. agency distributed 78 mln doses to 77 poor countries
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, March 28 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) blamed the pharmaceutical industry and drug regulators on Monday for delays in distributing vaccines to poor countries during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, also said no amount of advance planning would change such systemic obstacles next time. The United Nations agency had made every effort to ensure that the vaccine, donated by rich nations and drug makers, swiftly reached vulnerable people in developing countries, she said.
“The hurdles that slowed us down arise from the lack of harmonisation of registration for medicines and vaccines, issues of liability that are part of company policies and the simple fact that no country is willing to give up its sovereign right to authorise the marketing of a medical product,” Chan told a review committee evaluating the WHO’s handling of the emergency.
Issues linked to the need to maintain a cold chain of delivery to preserve a vaccine’s efficacy had posed additional problems. “In my view, no amount of advance planning is going to change this reality or alter the way the systems work.”
The WHO announced in June 2009 that the newly-emerged H1N1 virus was causing the world’s first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years. It declared the pandemic over in August 2010, saying it had turned out to be much less severe than was feared.
The WHO coordinated the distribution of 78 million doses of vaccines to 77 eligible countries including Bangladesh, Cuba, North Korea and Zimbabwe, its figures show.
The review committee, in a draft report issued earlier this month, said it had found no evidence of drug industry influence on the WHO’s decision-making in the pandemic. [ID:nLDE72917A]
But it signalled shortcomings, including the WHO’s lack of a consistent and measurable description for judging a pandemic’s severity which had created confusion. The panel also said WHO bureaucracy had prevented a timely distribution of vaccines.
Dr. Harvey Fineberg, an American flu expert who chaired the committee, said it had examined the process of negotiation linked to obtaining vaccine for redistribution in the world.
“That was very problematic in the pandemic, it was slow and it was difficult,” he told a news briefing on Monday. “Everyone recognises that it remains a very serious impediment to the world’s ability to deal with a future pandemic.”
The panel will issue its final report in the weeks ahead of the WHO’s annual assembly of ministers, being held from May 16-24. (Editing by Andrew Callus)