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Race is on to produce vaccine for swine flu

WITH swine flu now an official pandemic, the race is on among drug makers to produce a vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline said after the World Health Organization announcement on Thursday that it would be ready within weeks to begin large-scale production. Sanofi-Aventis also said it had started working on its own version.

The next day, Swiss giant Novartis announced it had created an experimental vaccine. Novartis' vaccine was made via a cell-based technology that may prove faster than the traditional method, which relies on chicken eggs.

WHO and others estimate that about 2.4 billion doses of pandemic vaccine could be available in about a year.

But the likely scramble for vaccines will leave many people in poorer countries empty-handed.

Many rich countries such as Britain, Canada and France signed contracts with pharmaceuticals long ago, guaranteeing them access to pandemic vaccine.

In May, WHO officials and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked vaccine makers to save some production for poor countries.

Some have agreed to help. GlaxoSmithKline has offered to donate 50 million doses to WHO for distribution to developing countries.

During the bird flu crisis, Sanofi-Aventis promised about 60 million doses based on the H5N1 strain. WHO is now talking with the drug maker to switch those vaccines over to swine flu doses.

In previous pandemics, vaccines never left the country where they were made before all of that country's own needs had been met.

According to WHO, 74 countries have nearly 30,000 cases including 145 deaths. But so far, the virus appears to be mild. Most people don't need medical treatment.


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