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H1N1 Vaccine Production Delayed

A Chinese medical worker wearing mask and protective clothing examines a man acting an H1N1 flu patient during a drill against the H1N1 flu in Zhuzhou city, central Chinas Hunan province, 16 May 2009. International cooperation must be carried out for a global response to the current A/H1N1 influenza outbreak, Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu said on Monday (18 May 2009). Economic globalization has led to a global transmission of diseases. To address this global challenge, a better way is to take global actions, Chen said in a speech to the 62nd World Health Assembly (WHA). According to the minister, countries need to have better cooperation, demonstrate solidarity, support each other in information, technology and knowledge sharing, and make joint efforts to prevent the disease from developing into a new crisis threatening the economic and social development of mankind.
AP
Making an H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine appears to be more difficult than experts first thought, the World Health Organization acknowledged Tuesday as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan met with pharmaceutical companies.

Health officials from around the world are attending WHO's annual meeting in Geneva this week to discuss the outbreak that has infected 9,000 people in over 40 countries, killing 76 of them.

Flu experts have told WHO that vaccine manufacturers will not be ready to produce a swine flu vaccine until mid-July at the earliest, WHO reported Tuesday. Previously, WHO officials had thought production could start in late May.

Experts also found no evidence that regular flu vaccines offer any protection against swine flu.

Meanwhile, dozens of countries urged the WHO to change its criteria for declaring a pandemic, saying the agency must consider how deadly a virus is - not just how far it spreads across the globe.

"This flu will continue to spread across the United States," acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Richard Besser told CBS' The Early Show.

Fearing a swine flu pandemic declaration could spark mass panic and economic devastation, Britain, Japan, China and others asked the global body on Monday to tread carefully before raising its alert. Some cited the costly and potentially risky consequences, such as switching from seasonal to pandemic vaccine, even though the virus so far appears to be mild.

Although no formal changes were made Monday, WHO said it would listen to its members' requests.

"It's certainly something we will look at very closely," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's flu chief.

The alert for swine flu is now at phase 5, which means the virus is spreading unchecked inside at least two countries in a single region. Under the existing rules, phase 6 indicates outbreaks in at least two different regions of the world and that a pandemic is under way.

"We need to give you and your team more flexibility as to whether we move to phase 6," Britain's Health Secretary Alan Johnson told WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, a public health veteran who has made combating the outbreak her top priority since the new virus appeared in North America last month.

Key developments on swine flu outbreaks, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and government officials as of May 19, 2009:

  • Deaths: Global total of 76 - 68 in Mexico, six in U.S., one in Canada and one in Costa Rica. Officials said victims from Canada, U.S. and Costa Rica also had other medical conditions.
  • Confirmed cases: WHO says 40 countries have reported more than 8,829 cases, mostly in U.S. and Mexico.
  • CDC says 46 U.S. states plus District of Columbia have combined 5,123 confirmed and probable cases. Most probable cases are eventually confirmed.
  • Dozens of countries urge WHO to change its criteria for declaring a pandemic to consider how deadly a virus is - not just how far it spreads. Britain, Japan, China and others cite potential consequences such as economic devastation and how vaccine decisions would be made.
  • U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told The Associated Press she wanted more information on the countries' proposal to WHO before taking a position.
  • Acting CDC director says the outbreak is "not winding down" in the United States and "widespread transmission" continues. He says the epidemic is not over in Mexico.
  • Japanese government says it will phase out airport quarantine checks after 41 more swine cases were confirmed in the port city of Kobe and nearby Osaka. A total of 176 cases have been confirmed in Japan, making it the fourth-most infected country in the world.
  • China confirms its fourth case of swine flu on the mainland and says an Italian woman traveling in Tibet is also suspected of carrying the virus.