World Health Organization Holds Meeting To Discuss Potential for Flu Pandemic, Vaccine Development
Challenges to manufacturing a vaccine to combat a potential flu pandemic include a lack of funding and the absence of a likely candidate vaccine, according to worldwide flu experts speaking Friday at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva, Long Island Newsday reports (Ricks, Long Island Newsday, 11/14). The meeting, called in preparation for a potential flu emergency, was attended by about 50 experts from national health ministries, prescription drug regulatory agencies and vaccine manufacturers.
The experts concluded that "very little" action has been taken to prevent the potential "devastation" that could result from a worldwide flu pandemic, according to the Washington Post (Brown, Washington Post, 11/13). In addition, the experts said issues such as licensing of vaccine technology, consistency among national regulatory agencies and testing of mock vaccines should be addressed immediately to prepare for an emergency (Ross, AP/Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 11/13).
The United States is the only country in the world that has begun production of vaccine for the avian flu strain that has emerged in Asia. HHS has contracted with two companies to make about two million does of vaccine against the currently circulating H5N1 strain, which experts say might mutate to cause a pandemic (Washington Post, 11/13). WHO estimates that about $13 million per vaccine will be necessary to conduct the necessary research for regulatory approval within a year (AP/Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 11/13).
Creating seed strains and test batches of vaccine is "financially risky" because the pandemic strain that emerges could be different than those used in vaccine development, according to the Post (Washington Post, 11/13). Japanese and Canadian health officials said their companies would begin studies to produce possible flu vaccinations.
"There is currently too little momentum in the development of (an) influenza pandemic vaccine," Klaus Stohr, WHO's influenza chief, said, adding that three pandemics occurred last century (Long Island Newsday, 11/14). Stohr added, "There is a need to raise the profile of pandemic preparedness as a matter of national security planning" (Altman, New York Times, 11/13). "We could now get our groundwork, our homework done to ensure that when it matters most to do vaccine production, it can happen immediately," he said.
Luc Hessel, executive director of medical affairs for Aventis-Pasteur, said that "companies will have limited capacity to develop expensive research activities" unless interested countries underwrite the cost (Long Island Newsday, 11/14).