GENEVA (Reuters) - Global production of seasonal flu vaccine is expected to double to 1.7 billion doses by 2015, with 11 new manufacturers coming onstream in developing countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
If a new influenza pandemic erupts, the world's projected 37 vaccine makers could potentially triple their annual production of trivalent seasonal vaccine to make 5.4 billion doses of pandemic vaccine, the United Nations agency said.
But the actual amount would depend on the yield of the virus grown in the egg -- disappointingly low for H1N1 -- and how much adjuvant -- which stretches the active ingredient -- is used in pandemic vaccine, experts said.
"The estimate is by 2015, if all projects that are currently going on get to successful implementation, we would have something around 1.7 billion doses of seasonal vaccine," WHO assistant director-general Marie-Paule Kieny told a briefing after experts held three-day talks.
"In making pandemic vaccine you have a multiplication by a factor of three."
The WHO came under fire during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009-2010, the world's first pandemic in 40 years, for slow distribution of vaccines in poor countries and allegations of drug industry influence on its decision-making.
"What we are continuing to do is to make sure that not only will there be more pandemic vaccine if need be, but also that the sites where these vaccines will be produced will be more diverse geographically and more populations of the world will have earlier access to pandemic vaccine," Kieny said.
An independent review panel which issued a report earlier this year on WHO's handling of the emergency said that the world remained ill-prepared for a major pandemic.
"We do not currently have the capacity to produce in a timely way sufficient vaccine to protect the world's population in the face of a global, severe influenza pandemic," Dr. Harvey Fineberg, an American heading that panel, said on Thursday.
GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi are among major producers of influenza vaccines.
"We have to take influenza vaccine as a tool to combat influenza pandemic, not just a tool to maximize profit," said Dr. Pathom Sawanpanyalert, Thailand's chair of the WHO's Global Action Plan for Influenza Vaccines, the experts group that met.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)