WASHINGTON Nine rich countries agreed to share extra swine flu vaccine with less-developed countries on Thursday, just as companies prepared to deliver supplies.
The United States pledged 10 percent of its vaccine supply, joining Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and Britain.
The World Health Organisation has been working to persuade countries to share their supplies of vaccine against the pandemic. "They own most of the vaccine out there," WHO's Dr. Keiji Fukuda told scientists at an Institute of Medicine pandemic influenza meeting this week.
"The single biggest (issue) we have to deal with is disparity."
Vaccine makers GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Pasteur previously pledged 120 million doses to WHO. Experts estimate that 80 percent of the world's nearly 7 billion people live in the developing world, with little hope of getting a vaccine.
WHO has been urging countries that pre-ordered vaccine from the 25 or so manufacturers to share some of it.
"Whatever is available to WHO will be made available first to least-developed countries, about 49 countries, with the intention of providing them to vaccinate their healthcare workers," Fukuda said.
The United States has ordered 195 million doses of H1N1 vaccine from five makers -- Glaxo, Sanofi, Australia's CSL, AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit and Novartis.
This is not enough to cover 300 million people but the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says almost every year influenza vaccines go unused and millions of doses are thrown away.
Countries all expect a bonus with the news that many of the vaccines being made will protect people with a single dose. Most had ordered vaccine with the expectation that two doses would be needed, so the many now have more than anticipated.
"We will have enough vaccine for every American who wants it," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said.
The CDC has designated about 160 million people as high-risk, including pregnant women, people with heart disease, asthma or diabetes, healthcare workers and school-aged children.
"We continue to stress that it is most important for those in high-risk populations to receive the vaccine because they are the groups most likely to have the most severe reaction to the disease," Cherlin said.
European countries agreed to share vaccine this week under a European Commission plan.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Maggie Fox; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)