By Lindsay Spratt, Sub Editor
RIO DE JANEIRO – Sanofi Pasteur, a branch of French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Aventis, is to provide Brazil with eighteen million doses of vaccine to fight the spread of the H1N1 virus, otherwise know as swine flu.
Sanofi Pasteur has signed an agreement with the Brazilian biomedical research unit Butantan Institute, to make and provide the vaccine following an order from the country’s Ministry of Health.
An extra fifteen million doses will also be provided if the World Health Organization (WHO) orders vaccine makers to change production from the regular seasonal flu vaccine to the pandemic H1N1 vaccine, according to a statement made by the WHO on Friday, September 11.
Swine flu has continued to spread throughout Brazil incurring a total of 6,592 infected and 657 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health’s latest figures published at the end of August. São Paulo remains the state with the highest number of recorded cases, at 261. According to the WHO, these figures make Brazil the country with the highest number of fatalities from the virus in the world.
The WHO however admitted in its weekly update on the disease on September 11 that it is continuing to spread but the situation is not becoming more serious, as had been predicted. The organization also confirmed that adults between the ages of 25 and 49 also make up forty percent of worldwide deaths from the disease.
José Serra, governor of São Paulo, announced on September 12 that production of the vaccine will begin in January and continue until April. Attending a conference on pandemic illnesses in Ibirapuera, the governor said that “Brazil will be more prepared next year, now that awareness about the virus has spread”.
Pharmaceutical companies have begun a race to develop vaccines as the Northern Hemisphere prepares for cooler temperatures and the traditional flu season begins.
Spring is soon to arrive in Brazil, but according to Serra, the government has its sights on another phase of swine flu contamination which will hit Brazil at the beginning of its winter next year, in June or July.
Dosage requirements for the new vaccine are yet to be determined and will be based on clinical trial outcomes, according to Sanofi Pasteur. Animal testing will begin in October and tests on humans will follow before the end of the year. The government will decide on the distribution of the vaccines between the states in Brazil and the criteria for selecting which patients to vaccinate.
The Butantan Institute will fill and package the vaccine in its São Paulo offices and be responsible for the distribution. According to the secretary of the Butantan Institute, one of the biggest challenges in the vaccine’s distribution is defining the number of doses necessary to immunize the population. Sanofi Pasteur’s studies suggest that two doses are needed to treat H1N1, compared to one dose for common flu viruses.
On September 10, Swiss pharmaceutical Novartis stated that a single dose of its vaccine might protect against the H1N1 virus, raising hopes that potentially tight supplies could go further when worldwide mass immunization starts this month.