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August 21, 2009

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Australian swine flu vaccine due next month

AUSTRALIA said yesterday it expects to launch swine flu vaccinations starting next month, in what may turn out to be the first such program since the emergence of the disease in April.

The World Health Organization has declared the swine flu strain a pandemic, and it killed almost 1,800 people worldwide through last week. Attention has focused on how the pandemic progresses in southern hemisphere countries such as Australia, which are experiencing winter and their flu season.

It was not immediately clear if Australia would be the first country to administer vaccines. Health Minister Nicola Roxon said no formal announcement had been made elsewhere, but that she expected other countries to start programs at about the same time.

The United States government has predicted it would start distributing a vaccine in mid-October.

The first jabs will go to more than 4 million vulnerable Australians, including pregnant women, handicapped children, health workers and the obese, Roxon said.

She said Australian drug maker CSL will deliver the first of 2 million doses on August 31, but that safety tests from clinical trials are not yet complete.

"We are planning ... for the vaccination program to commence at some time in September," Roxon said.

Clinical trials will determine whether one or two doses are needed to protect a person from the potentially fatal virus. Australia plans to buy 21 million doses.

"We were the first country to enter into clinical trials of mass vaccine and we'll be the first country to know how a vaccine program would best be structured as a result," CSL spokeswoman Rachel David said, adding she understood Britain planned to distribute a vaccine produced by GlaxoSmithKline without clinical trials.

CSL recently notified the US that its shipments would arrive later than promised because the firm first must provide batches to the Australian government.

The US won't have the long-promised 120 million doses ready to dispense by October 15, but just 45 million instead, according to the latest estimates by the US Department of Health and Human Services this week.

China has yet to announce a detailed swine flu vaccination strategy, but has previously said it is aiming to build a reserve of vaccine doses for 1 percent of the population, or 13 million, by October.

Last week, China's Health Ministry said all clinical trials were expected to be completed by mid-September.


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