The World Health Organization has announced that it is working with drugmakers to create a global stockpile of vaccines for the H5N1 avian influenza virus and GlaxoSmithKline has already pledged a donation of 50 million doses.

Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general, said that the stockpiling initiative “is another significant step towards creating a global resource to help the world and especially to help developing countries in case of a major outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza". The WHO acknowledged, however, that further work is needed on detailed operational planning for the stockpile, including how and under which conditions it will be deployed, as well as regulatory aspects of the vaccine.

GSK responded quickly, saying that it is giving 50 million doses of H5N1 adjuvanted pre-pandemic influenza vaccine to the WHO which, delivered over a three-year period, will provide enough doses of vaccine for 25 million people. The UK drugs major also noted that it intends to provide additional doses of its vaccine at preferential prices to the WHO for Global Alliance for Vaccines-eligible countries (there are 73 of them).

Europeans also urged to get themselves supplied

GSK chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier noted that none of the governments of the major European countries – Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK – have placed orders to secure a supply for their populations and urged them to do before that supply gets stretched. GSK's pre-pandemic vaccine has not been approved yet by US or European regulators.

Sanofi-Aventis also announced that it is ready to supply “a significant number of doses of H5N1 vaccine for the establishment of an international stockpile” and part of this could be made available immediately, in bulk form. Chairman Jean-Francois Dehecq said that “above and beyond this vital initiative with the international community and with WHO, we are actively pursuing further moves that are intended to increase influenza vaccine supply for countries in the developing world, enabling us to provide a meaningful contribution to global pandemic preparedness".

The USA’s Baxter International said that it will back the WHO programme “by providing a multiyear donation” of its candidate pandemic influenza vaccine, while Omninvest, a Hungarian vaccine manufacturer, has also pledged its support.

Harvey Bale, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations also welcomed the move, but noted that “mechanisms will need to be defined for demand forecasting, administration of the procurement process, governance of the stockpile and for ensuring it is kept up-to-date”. He added that “a realistic solution for the issue of liability will also need to be found” and “responsibilities for determining the deployment and distribution of the stockpile will need to be clearly spelt out”.