By Richard Knox
The World Health Organization has brokered a deal resolving a long-running dispute between poorer countries and developed nations over access to emerging flu viruses and vaccines against them.
Under the agreement, finalized Saturday after an all-night final bargaining session, vaccine manufacturers commit to setting aside at least 10 percent of the world’s flu vaccine production for developing nations when the next flu pandemic strikes. Poorer countries would either get vaccine free or pay reduced prices for it.
In return, developing nations agree to routinely share samples of mutating flu viruses with the WHO. That’s an essential piece of the world’s surveillance mechanism for viruses with pandemic potential and is critical to the development of effective vaccines.
The dispute was triggered back in 2007, when Indonesia refused to share samples of the highly lethal H5N1 bird flu virus because, it said, there was no assurance it would get access to vaccine developed as a result.
Indonesia’s fears were borne out in the pandemic of 2009-2010. That pandemic was caused, as it turned out, by a new swine flu virus rather than H5N1. Mexico, where the pandemic virus first emerged, “had a terrifically difficult time getting access to the pandemic vaccine,” Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s top flu expert, tells Shots. “It was really a problem for them.”
That’s because rich countries had signed agreements with vaccine manufacturers that tied up virtually the entire planet’s flu vaccine output.