Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bird flu vaccine more than a shot in the dark

(Reuters) - Culls of hundreds of thousands of chickens, turkeys and ducks to stem bird flu outbreaks rarely make international headlines these days, but they are a worryingly common event as the deadly virus continues its march across the globe.

As scientists delve deeper into H5N1 avian influenza, they have discovered it is only three steps way from mutating into a potentially lethal human pandemic form, adding new urgency to a debate over how to protect humans.

In 2009, during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, vaccines only became available months after the virus had spread around the world - and even then there was only enough for one in five of the world's 7 billion people.

Next time, experts say, we need another approach.

Talk is centered on "pre-pandemic vaccination" - immunizing people years in advance against a flu pandemic that has yet to happen, and may never come, rather than rushing to create vaccines once a new pandemic starts.

"Even if you change manufacturing to higher-yield technologies, you're still going to be chasing the virus," David Salisbury, Britain's director of immunization, who chaired a global group on vaccines during the H1N1 flu pandemic, said in an interview.

"The bottom line is that current production will never solve the problem. Read More