WHO prepares H1N1 vaccines for developing countries

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization has launched a program to give H1N1 flu vaccines to nearly 100 developing countries, with the first ones receiving the shots soon, its vaccine expert said on Friday.

An employee of the Horst-Schmidt hospital holds up bottles of Pandemrix, a vaccine against H1N1 influenza during an injection session against H1N1 in Wiesbaden October 26, 2009. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Marie-Paule Kieny, head of vaccine research at the U.N. health body, said a group of 16 countries was being contacted and should shortly receive enough vaccines to inoculate up to 2 percent of the population.

The countries were recommended to vaccinate health care workers first, she told a news conference.

Eventually the WHO would supply 95 developing countries with a view to immunizing over 10 percent of their population against pandemic H1N1, widely known as swine flu.

WHO has received donations of 156 million doses of vaccine from four manufacturers or governments, and hoped to reach the 200 million dose level needed to help 95 countries, she said.

Donor governments are also helping with syringes, needles, other equipment and finance.

The WHO declared H1N1 an unstoppable pandemic in June and it has since spread around the world, with 25 manufacturers making vaccines to different formulations.

WHO experts say the vaccines, of which one shot suffices, are safe.

Teenagers and young adults are most likely to catch swine flu, in contrast to the seasonal flu viruses where the elderly are most at risk.

Most people escape with mild symptoms, but some groups such as pregnant women or people with previous health conditions such as diabetes can suffer severe illness or die from the virus.

Reporting by Jonathan Lynn