Japan to produce new flu vaccine this year: media

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan plans to produce enough H1N1 flu vaccine to treat 20 million people by the end of year, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Friday. Japan has 410 confirmed cases of the new form of flu, although most have recovered and no patients showed serious symptoms, the health ministry said.

While most H1N1 flu cases around the world have been mild, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned countries to get ready for more serious infections if the virus mutates.

So far, there have been more than 20,000 cases of the new flu around the world and 126 deaths.

Japanese makers will start producing the vaccine for the new flu strain as early as in early July, with vaccinations available from around November, the newspaper said.

Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said it would take more time for Japan to decide production details for the vaccine doses.

“The National Institute of Infectious Diseases will probably be able to give makers the seed of a vaccine around June 10,” Masuzoe told reporters when asked about the newspaper report.

But he added: “We need to see how the WHO and other countries make their plans, so I think it will take more time.”

There are only four makers in Japan that can produce the vaccine, mostly research organizations and not major pharmaceutical companies.

To produce the vaccine for the new flu, they will need to allocate some resources away from the production of vaccines for the more common seasonal flu. The Yomiuri newspaper quoted a health ministry official as saying that the ministry decided to have those makers to start producing vaccine for the new flu after its estimate showed enough seasonal flu vaccine to treat 30-40 million people could be produced this month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference on Friday that it was too premature for Japan to declare an end to the new flu outbreak, rejecting a call from the transport minister amid worries the outbreak has curbed tourism.

Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa