By Neeraj Gangal
Saudi to start H1N1 inoculation with pilgrims; launched vaccination campaign.
British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline is currently Saudi Arabia's sole supplier of an H1N1 flu vaccine but the kingdom may include other firms for the supply of a nationwide inoculation campaign, the health ministry said.
Saudi Arabia's vaccination campaign was launched on Saturday and will first focus on pilgrims and health workers.
"For the moment, the only vaccine that has been authorised is the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine Pandemrix," health ministry spokesman Khaled Mirghalani told Reuters.
"We will in the future get vaccines from other clients, from other companies, as soon as they get approved by the SFDA (Saudi Food and Drug Authority)," he said.
Around 3 million Muslim pilgrims from more than 160 countries take part in the haj in the holy city of Mecca most years, including up to 2 million who travel from abroad. Haj this year will start in during the last week of November.
Disease experts from the United States and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have said waves of the H1N1 flu virus spread by pilgrims travelling to and from Mecca for haj could put pressure on healthcare systems around the world.
The pilgrimage provides perfect conditions for the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, which is transmitted by sneezing and physical contact.
The country will launch later this month a second inoculation campaign aimed at schools, Health Minister Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Rabeea said on Saturday.
GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis are among some 25 companies producing pandemic vaccine and other drugmakers including Switzerland's Roche Holding are making antivirals for use as a frontline H1N1 drug.
According to the World Health Organization's latest death toll, which is thought to underestimate the total spread of the virus, at least 6,000 people worldwide have died as a result of an H1N1 infection since its discovery earlier this year in Mexico and the United States. (Reuters)