Report: Japan to stockpile prototype bird flu vaccines for 10 million people

(Jan 3, 2007) TOKYO: Japan plans to buy prototype bird flu vaccine solutions for up to 10 million people, a news report said Wednesday, amid concerns that the country lacks an adequate stockpile of drugs to fight the virus.

The Japanese government will earmark 4.5 billion yen (US$37.9 million; €28.56 million) in its supplementary budget for the fiscal year ending March 31 to build up the stockpile, Kyodo News agency reported, citing unidentified Health Ministry officials.

Four Japanese vaccine makers are expected to complete production of two types of prototype vaccine for 10 million people by around February, Kyodo cited the officials as saying.

Manufacturers cannot produce an actual vaccine until a flu outbreak has occurred, so they are creating a stopgap prototype vaccine based on samples of the H5N1 strain of the virus detected in Vietnam in 2004 and in Indonesia in 2005, Kyodo added.

Health Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 157 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There have been no known human deaths in Japan.

So far, the virus still cannot move easily from human to human — but if this changes, experts fear it could lead to a deadly flu pandemic.

Preparing for the worst, Tokyo planned to have enough of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu for 25 million people under a program set up in December 2005. The program, however, set no timetable for reaching that target, government health officials say.

Under the plan, the central government was to stock enough Tamiflu for 10.5 million people, and local governments would have stocks for another 10.5 million people. Stocks available in the market would cover an additional 4 million people.

Stocks, however, are still short of those targets.

The central government had Tamiflu for 7.5 million people and local governments had planned to buy enough for another 5.25 million people by March 2007, Health Ministry officials said in late November. That would cover only about 60 percent of the amount called for under the plan.

The officials did not know whether stocks available on the market had reached the target. (AP)

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