Govt Signs Bird Flu Vaccine Agreement

JAKARTA ~ The government has signed an agreement with an American firm to develop a human bird flu vaccine and ensure it benefits from any treatment for the deadly virus, brushing off World Health Organisation (WHO) concerns.

Under the memorandum of understanding, which has yet to be finalized, Indonesia would provide samples of the H5N1 strain of bird flu and Baxter International Inc. would develop a vaccine and help Indonesia set up its own production facilities.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said the agreement would secure an affordable supply of vaccine in the event of a national emergency in Indonesia, which has suffered 63 bird flu deaths so far, the highest in the world.

“It is for our own use. If in the near future we need it, we would be ready,” she said on Wednesday.

When approved for licensing, Indonesia would also have the right to market the vaccine domestically and export it to other countries, she said.

Baxter has already developed a vaccine for humans for the Vietnamese strain of bird flu, which is undergoing trials, but Supari said Indonesia needed a vaccine for its own specific strain.

She added that Indonesia’s move was in line with the WHO’s call for all countries to prepare and develop their own vaccine production capacity.

Details of the plan still have to be agreed with Baxter.

Baxter president Kim Bush said the memorandum set up the framework to “continue to develop the vaccine to get it to a point where it can be used in humans” and “enable some of the manufacturing process to be done here in Indonesia.”

But he stressed it would not prevent Indonesia from working with other firms.

“This in no way precludes the government in working in parallel with other companies or other technologies,” Bush said.

“This in absolutely no way gives Baxter privileged access to any of the strains,” he said.

Bush said his company had moved at the request of Jakarta.

“The Indonesian government requested it, that they be able to do some of the manufacturing, to be close to the situation should they need a large amount of products,” Bush said.

The WHO said on Tuesday it was concerned about Indonesia’s decision to stop sending human bird flu virus samples to laboratories overseas.

It said the stance had raised questions about a global network of free virus sharing that has been a cornerstone of overall efforts to tackle influenza.

Supari denied Indonesia had stopped sending samples, saying it was merely seeking assurances they would not be used for commercial purposes by the recipients.

Indonesia had regularly sent virus specimens to the WHO for diagnostic purposes that were used to make vaccines sold back to the country, she said.

“I see this as something unfair,” Supari said. “We have the virus. We are the ones who are sick.”

Vaccines for many diseases have previously been commercially produced using samples from poor nations, which have complained that other, richer countries have been the ones who have mainly benefited.

Indonesia‘s deal was to ensure it would also profit from the development of a vaccine, the minister said.

“What is clear is that we are benefiting, meaning that we have a role here,” she said.

Scientists fear the H5N1 strain could mutate into a version that transmits more easily from human to human, triggering a global pandemic.

Bush and Supari said that if the virus mutated in that way, Baxter would be able quickly to produce a vaccine adapted to the new strain.

Filed under: The Nation

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