Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Second Vaccine Maker Promises Free Swine Flu Shots for Developing World

Vaccine maker sanofi-aventis plans to donate 100 million doses of its A(H1N1) pandemic vaccine, currently in development, to the World Health Organization for use in developing nations that cannot afford to buy it  hemselves. The donation, which came on the heels of a similar move by GlaxoSmithKline, was announced yesterday during the opening session of the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle, Washington.

Christopher Viehbacher pledged that sanofi-aventis will donate 10% of the vaccine it produces to WHO. Robert Sebbag, the company’s vice president for access to medicines, says sanofi-aventis believes it can make at least 800 million doses the 1st year after production starts. That number could be several times higher, however, if the vaccine contains a so-called adjuvant, a compound that amplifies the host’s immune response, meaning that less viral protein is needed per shot. How well the adjuvanted vaccine will work and whether it will receive approval from regulatory authorities remains to be seen.

In a statement issued yesterday, WHO Director General Margaret Chan welcomed the donation, calling it a “sizeable and generous gesture.” But David Fedson, a retired pharma executive and influenza vaccine expert living in France, cautions that the two countries where sanofi has manufacturing plants—the United States and France—may prevent vaccine from crossing their borders until they have enough to protect their own populations. Such an action that might leave WHO empty-handed.

Last week, GlaxoSmithKline said  it had offered WHO to convert its planned donation of 50 million doses of a so-called pre-pandemic vaccine for H5N1 avian influenza to the new A(H1N1) strain that it is now making. Novartis, the third major producer of flu vaccine, will not donate vaccine, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, but the company said it will consider a price break for developing countries.