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WHO: Vaccines for H1N1 Influenza Are Safe

  • Lisa Schlein

The World Health Organization says vaccines for H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic are safe and people should have no fear of debilitating side affects. A Senior WHO Official warns people are putting their health and lives at risk by not getting vaccinated. The Swine Flu pandemic tops the agenda of this week's Executive Board meeting.

The World Health Organization says pandemic viruses have replaced seasonal flu in almost all countries. And, it says these viruses are going to stick around for a long time.

As a consequence, WHO says vaccines against the disease are the best means of protection. Next month, scientists will be meeting at WHO headquarters to discuss the composition of future vaccines.

Keiji Fukuda is Special Adviser to the WHO Director-General on Pandemic Influenza. He says one of the big questions the scientists will face is to determine what patterns are likely to be seen in the fall and the winter.

"Right now, pandemic infections are occurring in many countries, but the overall pattern is decreasing," said Keiji Fukuda. "We see that the highest activity is in northern Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and southern Asia. And, we can also say that the second wave of infections peaked very early in some parts of the northern Hemisphere."

Fukuda says there is a lot of discussion and speculation as to whether another wave of infections will occur in the late winter and spring months. He says it is unclear whether the H1N1 pandemic virus will replace seasonal viruses to some extent.

He says a lot of attention has been focused on pandemic vaccines. People question whether they are needed and whether they are safe.

He says more than 265 million doses of vaccines have been distributed. And, of them, an estimated 175 million doses have been used.

"The safety monitoring for the vaccines has been unusually high," he said. "And, the coordination on the reporting has been unusually intense. And, at this point we can say that, again, no unusual safety issues have been reported. So, we have been looking very closely for any emergence of things such as Guillaume Barre's syndrome, unexplained deaths and so on. And, right now, we do not see the emergence of these kinds of patterns."

Fukuda says the World Health Organization has received pledges of 200 million doses of pandemic vaccine from pharmaceutical companies and governments. He says these vaccines will be distributed to 95 poor countries that cannot afford to buy them.

So far, he says two countries have received the vaccine and more doses of the vaccine will be distributed to another 15 countries this month.