Bird Flu Vaccine Launched – But For Whom?

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.

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6 Responses to “Bird Flu Vaccine Launched – But For Whom?”

  1. Mathematician Says:

    Well, Vietnam is testing theirs.

  2. Ed Rybicki Says:

    Sensible Vietnam…! Because they definitely won’t be getting any from anywhere else.

  3. jollyroger Says:



    With all the chicken shops in your local area, pretty much everyone could have the flu. Arghhhhhh! Oh god, your mum loves chicken nuggets and you always buy that gauntly thin value chicken from the supermarket that looks like it’s been sick. Nooooooo! And last night you had a very runny nose.

    Just so you’re not hastily arranging a lefty mob meeting. Human symptoms of H5N1 are; a fever, coughing, really sore throat, and achy muscles, the WHO not the who; the World Health Organisation said bird flu has “influenza like symptoms.” Oh yeah like you know what influenza even looks like? Might as well say bird flu symptoms are like contracting the plague, in super glue, riding dodo roller skates.

    You could also get really awful stuff happen like; eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, and “other severe and life-threatening complications.” I think the last point translates to a gang of people intent on burning you alive before you give them a “contagious killer disease.”

    …more at

  4. Strep Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Strep.

  5. H5N1 flu: The End is still in sight « ViroBlogy Says:

    […] especially for the developing world – shared with you here and here, in MicrobiologyBytes, and here, in your own ViroBlogy.  It is all too easy to easy to fall into a state of complacency, or even […]

  6. Is This The Big One? « ViroBlogy Says:

    […] Bird Flu Vaccine Launched – But For Whom? […]

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