Egypt is to order five million doses of swine flu vaccine, Deputy Health Minister Nasser al-Sayyed told AFP on Friday, sufficient to immunise 2.5 million of Egypt's nearly 80 million population.
"Egypt will buy five million doses as soon as the vaccine becomes available," Sayyed said, adding that the order could be increased to 10 million doses depending on the evolution of the (A)H1N1 virus over the winter.
AdvertisementAs of Thursday evening, Egypt had recorded 329 cases of swine flu. There has been just one death, a woman returning from a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia.
Egypt angered animal welfare groups by ordering a cull of the nation's entire pig herd of 250,000 animals after the first swine flu case was recorded in early June, a move the World Health Organisation has said was unnecessary.
But health officials have since played down the threat from swine flu, in a country that has been the worst hit outside Asia by H5N1 bird flu, with 27 deaths reported since 2006.
"The virus at its current status is very mild and can simply be treated with an aspirin and a few days resting at home," Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali told the English-language Daily News Egypt.
"So I will not buy a vaccine that costs the country millions of dollars unless it is needed," he added.
Pharmaceutical firms are racing to increase their capacity to produce an A(H1N1) vaccine, once tests confirm that one has been developed, and hope to begin releasing stocks in late September or early October.
The World Health Organisation has unofficially estimated that the world's labs may only be able to produce around 900 million doses for the A(H1N1) strain per year, for a planet that is home to 6.8 billion people.
Global pharmaceutical companies are more optimistic about how much of the drug they can produce but, since each potential victim needs two doses, most of the world's population will inevitably miss out.
"The lion's share of these limited supplies will go to wealthy countries," WHO director Margaret Chan warned last month.
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