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Asian nations worry over vaccine supply

ASIA has shown steely resolve in fighting the H1N1 flu virus with health checks and quarantines, but with more than 90 percent of flu vaccine production capacity located in the West, it is less prepared than it wants to be.

Vaccines are a key weapon to fight any pandemic influenza virus, but the bulk of production is sited in Europe and the United States, and health experts and officials in Asia find that worrying.

"Do you actually think that in a really serious pandemic that vaccines will be shipped here (to Asia)?" asked a microbiologist in Hong Kong, who declined to be identified.

Even though the new swine flu virus appears mild for now, countries like India and Indonesia are keenly aware of their vulnerability and have recently ordered local companies to develop H1N1 vaccines.

But Asia lacks sophisticated medical technology, experts said, and while it takes an experienced vaccine maker in the West four to six months to prepare a vaccine, Indonesian drug maker Bio Farma said last week that it would need two years.

Lily Sulistyowati, an official with Indonesia's Ministry of Health, said that if the country failed to come up with its own vaccine, it would push the World Health Organization to distribute stocks fairly.

India has invited several local drug makers to submit plans, and the government will decide in the coming week which company gets to make the H1N1 vaccine.

In Geneva on Saturday, health negotiators from rich and poor countries failed to clinch a full deal on virus sharing to produce vaccines, but said they had closed gaps on some tough political issues.


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