GENEVA During a press conference held Thursday, the World Health Organization updated the status of the novel H1N1 pandemic and announced that the novel H1N1 influenza vaccine would be incorporated into next season’s seasonal flu vaccine.
The triumvirate vaccine will include protection against the novel H1N1 virus, an H3N2 strain and a type-B virus.
“What the scientists said was that in the past year, the overwhelming number of influenza viruses that were isolated around the world were the pandemic H1N1 virus,” Keiji Fukuda, special adviser to the WHO’s director-general for pandemic influenza, told reporters. “The experts believe based on this information that these viruses will continue to be one of the dominant viruses in wide circulation in the coming fall and winter season in the northern hemisphere.”
However, substituting the pandemic H1N1 virus in place of last year’s seasonal H1N1 inoculation does not suggest that the novel H1N1 pandemic has concluded its course, Fukuda warned. “The recommendation to put the pandemic virus in the upcoming vaccine really means that this has been a dominant virus. And it is expected that it will continue to be a significant virus, circulating around the world as we head into the winter or the coming winter in 2010 and 2011.”
WHO will be convening its Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations Feb. 23, Fukuda added, noting that the meeting will be both to review the overall epidemiologic and virologic situation, and to provide some guidance to WHO as to whether we can consider ourselves in “the so-called post-peak period.”
The post-peak period is a transition period in which WHO continues to expect to see pandemic activity occur at different levels in different parts of the world, but that the worst has come to pass, Fukuda said. WHO will not be removing the “pandemic” status, however, Fukuda added. “The practical effect of indicating that we are in a post-peak period is really to give a broad signal to the world that even though we may continue to see pandemic activity that we expect that we are transitioning more towards a normal level.”
The highest levels of pandemic activity currently are occurring in parts of Eastern Europe, some parts of Northern Africa and parts of Asia.