Washington The World Health Organization has called an unprecedented summit meeting of flu vaccine makers and nations to ramp up plans for dealing with the growing threat of a flu pandemic.
Sixteen vaccine companies and health officials from the United States and other large countries already have agreed to attend the summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov. 11, said Klaus Stohr, influenza chief of the United Nations' health agency.
With increasing signs that bird flu is becoming established in Asia and several worrisome human cases that can't be linked directly to exposure to infected poultry, it's only a matter of time until such a virus adapts itself to spread more easily from person to person and cause a severe worldwide outbreak, he said.
"We believe that we are closer to the next pandemic than we ever were," Mr. Stohr said in an interview before a speech at a meeting of infectious disease experts in Washington, D.C.
The world's total capacity for flu vaccine now is only 300 million doses, and it would take at least six months to develop a new vaccine to fight a pandemic. The WHO wants to get "all issues on the table," monetary and scientific, that prevent getting more vaccine more quickly, he said.
"If we continue as we are now, there will be no vaccine available, let alone antivirals, when the next pandemic starts," Mr. Stohr said. "We have a window of opportunity now to prepare ourselves."