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Mexico still waiting for most swine flu vaccines

A syringe is used to draw a swine flu vaccine for the next person at a vaccination clinic at Carlin Springs Elementary School in Arlington, Va., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Swine flu-shot drives for all ages are scheduled around the country for what's officially dubbed National Influenza Vaccination Week, in hopes of preventing a possible third wave of the epidemic later this winter. A syringe is used to draw a swine flu vaccine for the next person at a vaccination clinic at Carlin Springs Elementary School in Arlington, Va., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Swine flu-shot drives for all ages are scheduled around the country for what's officially dubbed National Influenza Vaccination Week, in hopes of preventing a possible third wave of the epidemic later this winter. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
By Catherine E. Shoichet
Associated Press Writer / January 13, 2010

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MEXICO CITY—Mexico -- the epicenter of last year's swine flu outbreak -- has received less than half of the 30 million vaccine doses it ordered last year, the country's health secretary said Tuesday.

Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said Mexico has struggled to secure enough doses because there are no factories in Mexico producing the vaccine. Meanwhile, some countries have started to sell surplus swine flu vaccines.

"We had to wait in the second line to buy the vaccine, because obviously, the first shipments were for the countries that make the vaccine," he said.

After the first case of the H1N1 virus in the world was confirmed in Mexico last April, drug makers began preparing vaccines to control a potential pandemic.

Mexican officials ordered 30 million doses of the vaccine, including 20 million doses from the French company Sanofi Pasteur and 10 million doses from London-based GlaxoSmithKline. But when they realized most doses might not arrive until February or March, they brokered a deal to borrow 5 million doses from Canada.

Cordova said 12 million doses of the vaccine have arrived in Mexico, including the loan from Canada.

"What you have here is a glaring example that access to vaccines is determined by who has the money to buy them, not necessarily who needs them the most," said Orin Levine, director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University.

But despite the difficulty of getting doses, Cordova said Mexico's vaccination program was on track, with officials hoping to vaccinate 24 million Mexicans by March in a country of more than 105 million people.

Experts say countries like Mexico can cope with delays in vaccine distribution this year, since the H1N1 resurgence is milder than officials originally feared. But such imbalances may become a more serious problem in future outbreaks.

"It could cause very severe tensions internationally," said David Heymann, a former World Health Organization official who now works at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

Cordova said Mexico hopes to avoid future shortages by producing the vaccine within their country's borders.

French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis has announced plans to open a manufacturing plant in Mexico that will produce 25 million flu vaccine doses a year starting in 2012.