“We are all in this together, and we will all get through this, together.” So said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation after declaring an influenza pandemic, the first since 1968, as cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection continue to rise.

The WHO has lifted the pandemic alert level from phase five to six, as nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries. Dr Chan added that “further spread is considered inevitable” but noted that “no previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning”.

Dr Chan went on to say that “the world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness”. She also noted that although that the virus “appears to have moderate severity in comparatively well-off countries, it is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads to areas with limited resources”.

She added that production of vaccines for seasonal influenza will be completed soon, and that “full capacity will be available to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come”. It also appears that the drugmakers are ready to take on swine flu.

Mike Boyd, acting director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, said that “our members are better prepared than ever to face a pandemic influenza threat”. Vaccine makers are ready to start producing H1N1 vaccines “as soon as requested, and are discussing with WHO measures to help ensure broad access to them”, he added, while antiviral manufacturers have provided the WHO with stockpiles that have already been distributed to countries in need “and are now replenishing those stockpiles”.

One of the firms that will be at the forefront of developing a treatment, Novartis, said this morning that it has completed the production of the first batch of H1N1 vaccine, “weeks ahead of expectations”. The Swiss major stated that its cell-based, rather than egg-based, manufacturing technology “has cut weeks off the time required to begin vaccine production”.

The company plans to start clinical trials with its investigational vaccine in July and expects licensure in the autumn.