WHO advisors address H1N1 response, flu vaccine issues

May 19, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – An advisory group of experts to the World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed findings from an independent review committee on the agency's 2009 H1N1 pandemic response and expressed concern about findings of narcolepsy in Europe possibly linked to a flu vaccine.

The WHO today published a report on an April meeting in Geneva of its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunization during which the group addressed a host of seasonal, pandemic, and H5N1 vaccine issues.

The report appears in the Weekly Epidemiological Record. SAGE received the report of an independent committee's review of the WHO's pandemic performance and how the International Health Regulations functioned in their first test during a large-scale public health emergency.

The main findings of the review committee were that the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak met the criteria for a pandemic and that there was no evidence of commercial influence on the WHO's pandemic response.

While the SAGE group welcomed the report, it did not support the recommendation for regular seasonal flu immunization in low- and middle-income countries. It said its working group on influenza vaccines will review that recommendation and report back to SAGE at its meeting in November.

The advisory group also received an update on narcolepsy cases in some European countries that were linked to GlaxoKlineSmith's Pandemrix 2009 H1N1 vaccine.

SAGE members expressed concerns about the findings and asked the WHO to be available to assist countries on assessing the benefits and risks of the vaccine's use, if needed. SAGE advisors asked the WHO to prepare a communications plan in the event the company withdraws the vaccine from the market.

The group also considered options for handling the WHO's 120 million remaining doses of pledged H5N1 avian influenza vaccine. Options are to generate a bulk stockpile, keep it in a virtual stockpile that would specify a strain if a pandemic emerges, or keep most of it in a virtual stockpile, along with a small quantity that would be kept in a physical stockpile for immediate deployment, if needed.

The group will report back to SAGE on the options at the November meeting.

See also:

May 20 WHO Wkly Epidemiol Rec report

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