The draft resolution, which is expected to be formally adopted by
the World Health Assembly on Wednesday, says that the agency will
work out rules to guarantee "timely sharing of viruses" between
affected countries and WHO, and ensure "fair and equitable
distribution of pandemic influenza vaccines at affordable prices in
the event of a pandemic."
The text, the result of strenuous
negotiations between WHO member states, is written in very general
terms without defining what a fair distribution of vaccines or
timely sample sharing actually means. It also does not specify the
details surrounding the formation of a pandemic flu vaccine
stockpile, or how the stockpile would be distributed.
The discussion on virus sample sharing was among the predominant
subjects at WHO's annual meeting against the backdrop of an ongoing
battle with Indonesia over H5N1 virus samples.
Several experimental pre-pandemic vaccines based on H5N1 exist,
but as the virus continues to mutate, scientists need to match the
latest circulating strains to that in the vaccine, to ensure that
the vaccines would work.
Indonesia has not shared any bird flu samples since last
December, arguing that the pharmaceutical companies that could
develop vaccines would make them too expensive for its population.
Though Indonesia's health minister last week announced that the
country had shared three viruses with a WHO-accredited laboratory in
Japan, it is uncertain whether further viruses will be shared.
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China has also been reluctant to share samples. No H5N1 viruses
have been received from China for nearly a year -- during which time
Beijing has reported several human bird flu cases. China is
preparing five virus samples to share with WHO, but it is unknown
when they will actually be sent, according to WHO.
WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan last week harshly
criticized countries that do not share their H5N1 virus samples,
accusing them of crippling the world in the fight against a possible
An Indonesian-led draft proposal by developing countries had
asked WHO to give H5N1 virus samples to vaccine manufactures only
with the consent of the donor country.
But the resolution passed by Committee A today said that "in
times of public health emergencies of international concern,"
manufacturers should be given "full access" to viruses from WHO.
Although the text falls short of defining what constitutes a public
health emergency, WHO officials said it would apply in the case of a
Keeping the resolution rather vague, much work remains to be done
by a WHO working group that is supposed to formulate the terms and
conditions for virus and vaccine sharing.
from file received from AP