Vaccine experts prepare swine flu guidance for WHO

The World Health Organisation will issue new guidance on tackling the H1N1 flu virus next week, based on talks between vaccine experts that began in Geneva.
A WHO spokesperson confirmed that the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), chaired by Britain’s immunisation chief David Salisbury, was meeting but gave no details.
The 15-member group will tell WHO Director-General Margaret Chan who it recommends should be vaccinated against H1N1 flu and how many doses are needed, and Chan will review and circulate their suggestions.
The WHO’s guidance on vaccinations is seen as pivotal for the pharmaceutical industry’s investment decisions as well as government policies on buying and distributing vaccines against the swine flu virus.
The H1N1 virus has spread globally and killed nearly 5000 people since appearing earlier this year, the WHO says. Symptoms have been mild in most patients but pregnant women and people with health problems like diabetes are seen at higher risk.
Earlier yesterday, GlaxoSmithKline said it would get a boost from H1N1 vaccine sales this year. Its rivals such as Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis and AstraZeneca are also poised to benefit from governments’ mass immunisation campaigns.
In addition to pandemic flu, the SAGE panel will review broad immunisation priorities including routine vaccinations and emergency campaigns. The experts come from Britain, the United States, Syria, Pakistan, Thailand, Australia, Finland, Jamaica, China, Hong Kong, South Africa, Indonesia and Nigeria.
(For details on the SAGE committee and its work please see: here)