A number of drugmakers, especially Novartis, have received more orders from the US government to produce a potential vaccine to deal with the influenza A (H1N1) virus, as swine flu once again dominates the headlines.

The US Department of Health and Human Services says it will spend a further $884 million to purchase “additional supplies of two key ingredients for potential H1N1 vaccine to further prepare the nation for a potential resurgence” of the virus. It added that the funds will be used to place additional orders for bulk H1N1 antigen and adjuvant on existing contracts with Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis.

The latest orders are valued at around $690 million for Novartis, $71.4 million for GSK, $61.4 million for Sanofi and $61 million for AstraZeneca. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the move “will provide flexibility in a future immunisation programme”, if one is recommended.

The latest order comes after Sec Sebelius directed $1 billion in May to be used for the development and clinical studies to determine dose level and assess the safety and effectiveness of potential vaccines.

Spread of pandemic ‘unstoppable’
Meantime, the World Health Organisation issued an update on H1N1 saying that since the spread of the pandemic virus is considered unstoppable, vaccine will be needed in all countries”. The WHO Director-General Margaret Chan recommends that all countries “should immunise their healthcare workers as a first priority to protect the essential health infrastructure”.

Also the WHO notes that since new technologies are involved in the production of some pandemic vaccines, “which have not yet been extensively evaluated for their safety in certain population groups, it is very important to implement post-marketing surveillance of the highest possible quality”. It adds that “rapid sharing of the results of immunogenicity and post-marketing safety and effectiveness studies among the international community will be essential”.

– In the UK, a schoolgirl and a doctor have died from swine flu, bringing the number of deaths to 17. Last Friday, the first ‘healthy’ person died from the virus, the 15th confirmed H1N1 death.