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Swine flu vaccine lags

GENEVA, Sept 18 – Production of swine flu vaccines will fall "substantially" short of the amount needed to protect the global population, the World Health Organisation warned Friday as the pandemic death toll rose.

"Current supplies of pandemic vaccine are inadequate for a world population in which virtually everyone is susceptible to infection by a new and readily contagious virus," WHO director general Margaret Chan said in a statement.

Even though there is new evidence that only one dose of the vaccines currently being tested will be enough for most people, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said production over the next year will be "substantially less" than the 4.9 billion doses required.

Some 25 pharmaceutical laboratories working on vaccines have indicated that weekly production is lower than 94 million doses, he said.

In May, the WHO had forecast a weekly output of 94.3 million doses if full scale vaccine production was launched.

Amid growing fears that poorer nations will not get enough vaccines, the United States led nine countries which on Thursday pledged to make 10 percent of their swine flu vaccine supply available to other nations in need.

The United States said it was taking the action along with Australia, Brazil, Britain, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

Swine flu cases are expected to increase as the Northern Hemisphere enters its winter season. Britain has already reported a new surge in cases.

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The global flu death toll has reached 3,486, up 281 from a week ago, the WHO said Friday.

The UN agency said the Americas region still has the highest death toll, at 2,625. The Asia-Pacific reported 620 fatalities, while Europe recorded at least 140 deaths. In the Middle East, 61 people succumbed to the virus while in Africa, 40 people died from it.

The WHO also said flu activity was "above the seasonal baseline" in the United States and that it has reached epidemic levels in France and Japan.

Transmission is rife in central and south America and Asia, said the WHO, while in temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere, such as Australia and South Africa, flu activity is declining.

Experts have previously predicted that about one third of the world’s population of more than 6.5 billion people could be affected by (A)H1N1. But they stress that so far most victims are suffering only mild symptoms.

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