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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid