Archive for May 22nd, 2008

Bird Flu Vaccine Launched – But For Whom?

22 May, 2008

The online 20 May issue of Nature News trumpets the release and marketing of a new H5N1 bird flu vaccine: GlaxoSmithKline’s Prepandrix has just been approved by the European Commission. 

Published online 20 May 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.844

Bird flu vaccine to hit the shelves

Europe approves pandemic vaccine; countries must decide own strategies.

Tony Scully

The European Commission has approved a new vaccine against the H5N1 bird flu virus — the first vaccine designed to ward off a future pandemic. But how the drug, called Prepandrix, will be deployed by national governments remains unclear.The vaccine, produced by the UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, is aimed at the H5N1 strain currently circulating in birds as epidemiologists think that this is the most likely strain to cause a human pandemic. H5N1, which originated in south-east Asia and is carried by migrating birds and domestic poultry, has caused 382 human cases and 241 deaths worldwide since 2003.

Prepandrix targets an antigen from an H5N1 strain called A/Vietnam/1194/04, which has been detected in birds in Asia, Europe and Africa. Clinical tests have shown that the vaccine is also effective against other closely related variants of H5N1, such as H5N2. The release of the vaccine is seen as a gamble that any future pandemic strain will closely resemble the Vietnamese version used to derive the vaccine.

The article goes on to describe how “The first orders for Prepandrix were placed last year by Finland and Switzerland, before it had been approved by the European Commission. In 2007, sales for Prepandrix totalled US$284 million worldwide….”

Yes.  Well.  Um.  Where is the pandemic going to hit first?  Finland?  Switzerland?  I doubt it.  How about Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Egypt…or, horror of horrors, India or China?  All the places which will need a LOT of doses, cheap.

Do they stand any chance of getting them?  Not unless they have preordered.  And not – in the case a pandemic strikes – unless they are willing to take military action to prise their stocks out of the hands of the governments in the developed countries where the vaccines are made.

A senior WHO official stated the case very succinctly, at the Virus Africa virology conference in Cape Town in November 2005: “You people in the developing countries will be on your own if the pandemic comes.  You need to make your own vaccine…”.

We wait in hope.