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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, Oct. 23, 2006

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

Statement by Mike Leavitt
Secretary of Health and Human Services
On the WHO Global Pandemic Influenza Action Plan to Increase Vaccine Supply

The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken a significant step forward in the global effort to prepare for an influenza pandemic by publishing the Global Pandemic Influenza Action Plan to Increase Vaccine Supply. In developing this plan through a consensus of the world’s experts in influenza, immunization, vaccine research, and manufacturing, the WHO has set the world’s sights on the decisive path forward to increase the global capacity to produce pandemic influenza vaccine.

In the past year, the H5N1 strain of avian flu has spread to more than 40 additional countries and has led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of additional birds, which has heightened concern about the possibility of a human flu pandemic. Furthermore, the number of avian flu cases in humans has more than doubled to more than 250 cases in 10 countries. Tragically, more than half of those persons infected have died. To date, H5N1 avian influenza has remained primarily an animal disease, but should the virus acquire the ability for sustained transmission among humans, the potential for an influenza pandemic would have grave consequences for global public health.

Equally alarming is the fact that the global influenza vaccine manufacturing capacity of 350 million doses of vaccine per year is far short of the manufacturing capacity needed to protect the world's 6 billion people. The WHO action plan provides direction for increasing capacity for production of human influenza pandemic vaccines to reduce the anticipated gap between the potential vaccine demand and supply during an influenza pandemic.

In the United States, we have been making significant investments in vaccine research and in expanding production capacity, including $1 billion in cell-based vaccine research efforts. These investments will likely benefit not only citizens of the United States, but also citizens of the world. But responding to a pandemic will demand the cooperation of the world community. No nation can go it alone. If a country is to protect its own people, it must work together with other nations to protect the people of the world. In that spirit, the United States has provided $10 million to the WHO to support influenza vaccine development and manufacturing infrastructure by institutions in other countries as they develop sustainable programs for vaccines to prevent avian H5N1 or other novel influenza viruses in humans.

I commend the WHO for its continued leadership in guiding the global effort to prepare for and respond to a potential human influenza pandemic. It is our collective global resources and cooperation that will make our pandemic preparedness efforts a success and that will position us as a global community to be better prepared tomorrow than we are today.

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Last revised: October 23, 2006