Thailand is the first recipient of six major grants the World Health Organization (WHO) is distributing to developing countries to establish in-country manufacturing capacity for influenza vaccine.
The agreement was signed during the sixtieth WHO World Health Assembly last week, and means that Thailand will receive a little under $2m (€1.5m) as initial support to establish a pilot facility for the production of pandemic flu vaccine.
Under the terms of the agreement, at least 10 per cent of the resulting doses will be reserved for purchase by UN agencies for use in developing countries during a pandemic, with the remaining 90 per cent available for the Thai government to do with as it wishes.
The $2m will come in four instalments: $250,000 to develop human resources, followed by $900,000 to manufacture 10,000 vaccine doses for clinical trials, and a third instalment of $700,000 to be paid when full production is ready. The final $46,000 will be handed over when the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation of Thailand receives WHO certification.
The grant comes as part of a scheme initiated by the WHO to try and facilitate vaccine technology transfer to developing countries. It is the first of six grants to be awarded, the funds for which have been donated by the governments of Japan ($8m) and the US ($10m). The other five recipients (who will receive up to $2.5m each) are Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Vietnam.
These initial grants are just a helping hand to get the countries on their way to domestic flu vaccine production, and it will take a minimum of three to five years for the grant recipient countries to begin actually producing vaccine locally, according to the WHO.
Up until then, the WHO will be on hand to provide technical advice, documentation and access to experts, and will act as a facilitator between the company providing the vaccine technology and the government of the developing country.
Thailand (and the subsequent recipients) will be required to report back to the WHO with progress reports, and at a later date may still require further funds either from the WHO or other external funding parties.
"Most countries with resource constraints do not have the means to access influenza vaccines," Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the WHO initiative for vaccine research said recently.
"If we are to be well-prepared for an influenza pandemic, it is essential that developing countries have access to vaccines."
At present there is a shortfall of several billion doses between current global vaccine manufacturing capacity and the forecast demand should a pandemic hit. To try and close this gap, the WHO have implemented a global action plan to increase vaccine supply, which includes the above mentioned measures to increase vaccine production capacity.
Other initiatives include investigating financing avenues to help developing countries access products manufactured by multinational vaccine producers, and encouraging R&D in pandemic flu vaccines. Progress in this last area has been encouraging, with over 40 clinical trials of pandemic flu vaccines in humans having been completed or currently ongoing, with all vaccines reported safe and well-tolerated in all age groups tested.