All countries need vaccine for ‘unstoppable’ H1N1 virus

The highest body of experts advising the UN health agency on immunizations has determined that all countries will need to have vaccines for the influenza H1N1 infection, noting that the spread of the pandemic is “unstoppable.”
Just over one month ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the influenza outbreak had officially reached global pandemic levels, and raised its warning system to Phase 6 – meaning that sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus had spread beyond North America, where it was initially concentrated.
There are 94 500 reported cases, including 429 deaths, UN News Centre reports.
At its meeting last week in Geneva, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization reviewed the current pandemic situation, the status of seasonal vaccine production and potential H1N1 vaccine production capacity.
“They recognized that the pandemic is unstoppable and, therefore, all countries will need to have access to vaccines,” Marie-Paule Kieny, Director of WHO`s Initiative for Vaccine Research, told a news conference in Geneva today.
The experts noted that different countries have different epidemiological situations. As such, countries will have to take decisions that are the best suited to their own situations, said Dr. Kieny.
SAGE identified three objectives that could guide countries as they set out their immunization strategies. These are to reduce transmission, to reduce morbidity and mortality, and to protect the health-care system.
Among its recommendations, which were endorsed by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on Friday, the group said that all countries should immunize health-care workers as a priority.
 This is to “maintain functional health systems as the pandemic evolves,” said Dr. Kieny.
Also, priority could be given to certain groups deemed most vulnerable, such as pregnant women, who are at elevated risk of disease or death; healthy adults over the age of 50; and healthy children, since they are “amplifiers” of the infection.
The group also cited the need to ensure that the new influenza H1N1 vaccine will meet all safety criteria, and noted the importance of collecting data to this effect.
In addition, as most of the production of the seasonal vaccine for the 2009-2010 influenza season in the Northern Hemisphere is almost complete, the experts did not think there was a need to recommend a “switch” from seasonal to pandemic vaccine production, said Dr. Kieny.