News / Health

World Experts Debate Case for New Bird Flu Vaccine

Technical staff from the animal disease prevention and control center inject a chicken with the H5N1 bird flu vaccine in Shangsi county, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, April 3, 2013.
Technical staff from the animal disease prevention and control center inject a chicken with the H5N1 bird flu vaccine in Shangsi county, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, April 3, 2013.
Reuters
Experts from around the world are in daily talks about the threat posed by a deadly new strain of bird flu in China, including discussions on if and when to start making a vaccine.

Any decision to mass-produce vaccines against H7N9 flu will not be taken lightly, since it will mean sacrificing production of seasonal shots. And scientists warn it will take months to get any finished bird flu vaccine to the market.

But the groundwork is being laid.

The virus has been shared with World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating centres in Atlanta, Beijing, London, Melbourne and Tokyo, and these groups are analyzing samples to identify the best candidate to be used for the manufacture of vaccine - if it becomes necessary.

It is still a big "if", even assuming the continued spread of the new disease, which has killed five of the 14 people that it has infected in China.

"It is an incredibly difficult decision because once you make it you have to change from making seasonal flu vaccines and go to making a vaccine for this virus," said Jeremy Farrar, a leading expert on infectious diseases and director of Oxford University's research unit in Vietnam.

That could mean shortages of vaccine against the normal seasonal flu which, while not serious for most people, still costs thousands of lives.

Sanofi Pasteur, the world's largest flu vaccine manufacturer, said it was in continuous contact with the WHO through the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), but it was too soon to know the significance of the Chinese cases.

Other leading flu vaccine makers include GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis.

Preliminary test results suggest the new flu strain responds to treatment with Roche's drug Tamiflu and GSK's Relenza, according to the WHO.

Money Down the Drain?

There is no evidence yet of person-to-person transmission of H7N9 flu, and scientists do not yet know how what the strain's potential is to develop into a human pandemic.

Wendy Barclay, a flu virologist at Imperial College London, said one major argument against moving too soon would be financial.

"There is a possibility now that flu researchers will all rush to work on H7N9 and grants will be awarded for intensive research to develop vaccines ... and that could be pouring money down a drain because it could be that the barriers for this virus are high enough that we don't need to worry about it," she said.

She said scientists should first be focused on getting "the practical biology and the sequence analysis" before they decide to move on.

Since the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009, in which drugmakers took six months to develop and distribute effective vaccines, manufacturers have been stepping up efforts to produce shots faster to deal with the rapid spread of disease.

It remains a lengthy process, however.

"There is presently no technology that can quickly and cost-effectively mass-manufacture vaccine," said Anton Middelberg, a flu vaccine researcher at the University of Queensland.  "Although the WHO is sending materials for vaccine development to China, it is unlikely that vaccine will be produced quickly enough to impact this outbreak."

Still, the flu vaccine community is not starting completely from scratch.

A degree of preparedness already exists because the last WHO vaccine strain selection meeting in February had already decided to consider the broad H7 virus category as a pandemic candidate.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said vaccine candidate strains had also been developed as a response to previous H7 human cases in Europe and North America.

"These candidate strains may not efficiently cross protect against the novel A [H7N9] strain, but the fact that they are moving towards development does indicate a degree of preparedness globally," the ECDC said.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs