The world’s top health official said yesterday a vaccine to combat the surging swine flu pandemic would not be readily available for months as the number of deaths from the virus spiraled.
The comments from World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) came as Australia and Japan reported a surge in cases of the A(H1N1) virus, and Argentina dramatically upped its death toll from 94 to 137 in just three days.
“There’s no vaccine. One should be available soon, in August. But having a vaccine available is not the same as having a vaccine that has proven safe,” Chan told the Guardian newspaper. “Clinical trial data will not be available for another two to three months,” she added, contradicting health officials in Britain and elsewhere who said the first stocks would start arriving in August.
WHO director of vaccine research Marie-Paul Kieny, calling the pandemic “unstoppable,” had said on Monday that a swine flu vaccine should be available as early as September.
Germany said it envisaged having to order some 25 million doses of vaccine to immunize nearly a third of its population.
Australia, the Asia-Pacific region’s worst hit country, has already placed an advance order for 21 million doses — enough to immunize its entire population.
Australia and Argentina are now in the southern hemispheric winter, and officials fear a major rise in infections when the northern hemisphere enters the colder months and regular influenza becomes rampant.
Italy may have to deal with between 3 million and 4 million cases of swine flu by next March, Deputy Health Minister Ferruccio Fazio said.
He said that by the end of this year some 8.6 million Italians would have been vaccinated against the A(H1N1) virus, with priority given to the most vulnerable and to emergency workers.
Argentina’s new death toll made it the worst hit nation in terms of fatalities after the US, which has 211 deaths and 37,000 confirmed infections, the latest tally shows.
The WHO’s global death toll from swine flu stands at 429 with more than 94,500 infections tallied worldwide. Australia said its total of swine flu cases had reached 10,387, more than 10 percent of the WHO’s global total.