Reports are coming in that the government of Australia has placed an order for 10 million vaccines against the novel H1N1 swine flu virus, following a press briefing from Health Minister Nicola Roxon in Canberra earlier today, Thursday.

According to a report from Reuters, Roxon said the Australian government will also be ordering 1.6 million courses of the antiviral drug Relenza, bringing the national stockpile of antivirals to nearly 12 million courses.

The swine flu vaccine order has been placed with pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd who are planning to start clinical trials in a few months.

Vaccine producers worldwide have to wait for good “candidate” samples of the virus to be made in approved labs before they can start developing the vaccine. These are only just starting to come forward.

It is not clear whether the order is for doses or courses. If it is for doses and experts conclude that two doses are needed for full immunity, then this order will only cover 25 per cent of Australia’s 20 million inhabitants. Roxon told reporters that the health authorities will be deciding who gets the vaccine and who does not.

She said the government has also approved its first release of a controlled number of antivirals from the national stockpile to highly localized and targeted areas in the Victoria and Western Australia states to “enable aggressive containment of small clusters of the disease,” reported Reuters.

Earlier today, the Australian authorities reported they have officially confirmed 103 cases of H1N1 swine flu, up from 61 on Wednesday.

Australia is also gearing up for the regular flu season, which starts about now, as the winter months approach.

Most of the swine flu cases are believed to be in New South Wales and Victoria, the country’s two most populated states and which lie to the south east.

Three of the cases were passengers travelling on the cruise liner Pacific Dawn which is now not going to complete its journey north to Queensland.

As of 06:00 GMT yesterday, Wednesday 27 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that 48 countries have now officially reported 13,398 cases of H1N1 swine flu, including 95 deaths. Most of the deaths have been in Mexico, while most of the cases are in the US and Mexico.

Sources: Reuters, WHO.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD