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More H1N1 vaccines likely for poor countries: U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - Fresh donations of H1N1 vaccines are expected to swell a global stockpile created to ensure poorer nations have good supplies to contain the swine flu pandemic, a top United Nations health official said on Friday.

Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for fighting new emerging flu varieties, told reporters several richer states were likely to join nine which have agreed to share their own vaccines with developing countries.

“It is most likely that there will be other countries donating 10 percent of their H1N1 vaccine stocks,” Nabarro said by telephone from New York during a break from meetings with already pledged and potential donors.

He declined to say who the new donors would be, indicating that announcements would be made by the countries themselves, probably after meetings he and other officials were holding with them on Friday and into the weekend.

Last week, vaccines were pledged to the U.N.-administered stockpile by Australia, Brazil, Britain, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United States.

Drug makers can only produce enough H1N1 vaccine each year for half the planet, forcing each country to choose who will get the limited supplies, the WHO said on Thursday.

Mass vaccination programs could start in Europe within weeks after European healthcare regulators recommended two swine flu vaccines for approval on Friday.

Poorer nations are especially vulnerable to the H1N1 virus because many are badly affected by HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and have under-funded health services, U.N. and World Health Organization (WHO) officials say.

A report released earlier this week in advance of the New York meetings, chaired by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, said 85 developing countries would have to rely entirely on donations for vaccine supplies.

The Geneva-based WHO, which is coordinating the U.N. effort that involves several other agencies of the world body, aims to provide these nations with enough vaccine to cover 5-10 percent of their populations, the report added.

According to the report, based on responses from governments in the 85 developing states, poor countries will need $1.48 billion to deal with the pandemic over the next few years -- most of it in vaccines and antiviral medicines.

Nabarro said it would be up to governments in countries getting donations from the stockpile to decide what section of the population should have priority for vaccination.

But WHO officials are making clear they believe health care workers -- doctors, nurses and hospital and clinical staff who make up about two percent of the world population -- should be among the first to be immunized.

The U.N. health agency says it expects that one third of the world’s nearly seven billion people could be infected by the virus over the course of the swine flu pandemic, which was declared in June and could last for three years.

As of September 20, swine flu had killed 3,917 people in 191 countries since being identified in April, the WHO said.

(For the report go to link.reuters.com/wes28d )

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Michael Roddy

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