Health officials in the United States have two months to find out if
swine flu vaccines from two different drugmakers are safe and effective
for public use. The aim of the swine flu trials is to have a vaccine
available for the general public by October, the beginning of the flu
Swine flu spreading aggressively
From Asia, to Europe, to North America, the swine flu has spread across the globe at an alarming pace. "What you're see is that it is very easily spread," Dr. Wilbur Chen says,"and so it spread globally in just a span of a few weeks."
Dr. Chen of the University of Maryland is joining health officials from across the United States in a race to get a new vaccine to the public in October, before the swine flu hits full force.
Testing H1B1 vaccine on humans
"We have been planning for weeks for this activity," Dr. Chen reports. He is referring to the first human tests in the U.S. of the swine flu or H1N1 vaccine.
Jennifer Fisher is one of the first volunteers. "This flu can affect your neighbor, can affect your grandmother, it can affect people that come into and out of your life," she said.
Fisher says participating in the flu vaccine trials could help her relatives and herself because her work at a hospital could expose her to the virus.
"It's a very good possibility that I could end up with the flu," she explains, "and a vaccine just makes sense."
Fisher joins volunteers from eight locations across the U.S. to participate in these trials sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Volunteers will get two shots spaced three weeks apart.
Testing for safety and effectiveness
Doctors are testing for safety, side effects and effectiveness of the vaccine. They will be testing volunteers of different ages to determine which dose works best for each age group.
"With this study we'll be able to figure out what the doses are so if we can use lower doses we can certainly stretch out our limited vaccine supply," Dr. Chen said.
Currently there is a shortage of the H1N1 vaccine worldwide. In the United States the vaccine is only available this year for health care workers, women who are pregnant, children and people with chronic illnesses.
In addition to a vaccine shortage, doctors are also worried the virus will mutate into a more lethal form by the time the vaccine is available for the public.
"Right now it's spreading similar to the regular flu and causing disease similar to the regular flu and again it's just that guessing game of whether it's going to transform and become even more severe," Dr. Chen said.
According to the World Health Organization, the swine flu has killed more than 1,150 people across the globe this year. But, doctors, say this is much less than the average 35,000 people in the U.S. who die of the regular flu every year.
If you cannot get the vaccine this year, doctors say washing your hands regularly and staying home when you feel sick will help limit the spread of the swine flu.