Sanofi to donate 100 million flu shots to WHO

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vaccine maker Sanofi Aventis said on Wednesday it will donate 100 million doses of vaccine against the new H1N1 swine flu to the World Health Organization once it gets them made.

WHO can then send the vaccines to countries that need them most if it is decided to immunize people against the new strain of so-called swine flu, Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Christopher Viehbacher said.

“Exceptional times require exceptional responses. We need to act responsibly and we all have to play our part,” Viehbacher said in a statement released at the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle.

“That is the reason why we intend to donate 100 million doses of influenza vaccine to the World Health Organization to help developing countries face the influenza pandemic.”

WHO has not yet advised whether people should get vaccinated against H1N1, which has spread to all regions of the world, although it is only causing a moderate pandemic so far.

WHO has confirmed nearly 36,000 cases globally with 163 deaths, although flu experts say there are almost certainly hundreds of thousands of cases. Doctors do not test every person with symptoms.

Companies that make influenza vaccines have finished production of seasonal vaccines for the coming season in the northern hemisphere and have started work on an H1N1 swine flu vaccine in case it is needed. It would be given separately from the seasonal flu vaccine, which is a cocktail of the three most common strains -- including another type of H1N1.

It is not clear how easy it will be to make a vaccine against H1N1 as it has never infected people before. This means two doses might be needed to get a full immune response.

WHO has estimated vaccine makers could produce up to 4.9 billion pandemic flu shots a year in a best-case scenario, leaving some of the world’s 6.5 billion population unprotected, particularly if more than one dose was needed.

Sanofi said it would reserve 10 percent of its output for WHO. “In the event that Sanofi Pasteur’s manufacturing facilities become fully committed to the production of pandemic vaccine, the company will also supply this vaccine under a tiered-pricing policy for developing countries,” the company said.

Sanofi said at full capacity its new Pennsylvania factory can make 100 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine per year and its existing facility can make 50 million doses per year. Its French plant can make 120 million doses per year.

The company said it makes 40 percent of the influenza vaccines distributed worldwide.

Other companies that make flu vaccine include Novartis AG, Baxter International Inc, GlaxoSmithKline and Solvay.

Editing by Alan Elsner