Monday, July 17, 2006


Perhaps this is a sign that a worldwide bird flu pandemic is closer than we're being told, but the World Health Organisation has taken the extraordinary step of encouraging vaccine makers to rush quickly into producing vaccines, even though the effectiveness of these vaccines may not be known until after a human pandemic is over.

Very, very strange.

From Bloomberg :
Work on vaccines used to protect against a flu pandemic must start immediately, even though the effectiveness of the treatments might not be known until after a global outbreak ended, the World Health Organization said.

Randomized trials of candidate pandemic vaccines will be important in gauging their safety and gaining regulatory approval, the Geneva-based WHO said in a report published yesterday in the Weekly Epidemiological Record.

"Internationally coordinated preparatory work for these trials should start immediately, as little time would be available for putting the needed infrastructure in place after the start of the pandemic,'' the report said.

Pharmaceutical companies, including Sanofi-Aventis SA, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, MedImmune Inc. and CSL Ltd. are racing to produce treatments for use in a pandemic amid concern over the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which has infected at least 230 people in 10 countries in Asia and the Middle East, killing 132.

Governments and international health authorities are trying to stem the spread of H5N1 to reduce opportunities for the virus to mutate into a pandemic form.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will open a crisis management center in Rome later this month to help improve control of H5N1, which spread in domestic fowl and wild birds to at least 55 countries since late 2003.

A pandemic can start when a novel influenza A-type virus, to which almost no one has natural immunity, emerges and begins spreading worldwide. Experts believe that a pandemic in 1918, which may have killed as many as 50 million people, began when a lethal avian flu virus jumped to people from birds.

At least four strains of bird flu are capable of spawning the next pandemic, including the H5N1 virus, according to virologist Robert Webster, the Rosemary Thomas professor at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Although a vaccine against the H5N1 virus is under development in several countries, none is ready for commercial production and no vaccines are expected to be widely available until several months after the start of a pandemic, the WHO said.

"Effectiveness of pandemic vaccines will not be known before the pandemic and possibly only after it is over,'' the report in the Weekly Epidemiological Record said. "

"In addition, unexpected adverse events, whether coincidental or vaccine- related, will occur that may lead to anxiety and may affect vaccine uptake.''

Pregnant women are at special risk for influenza infection based on morbidity and mortality from previous pandemics and from intense flu seasons, the report said.

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