Will We Get a Vaccine?
Experts from around the world are in daily talks about the threat posed by a deadly new strain of bird flu in China, including discussions on if and when to start making a vaccine. But any decision to initiate mass production of H7N9 vaccines will be a tough decision to make. Jeremy Farrar, D.Phil., infectious disease expert and director of Oxford University’s research unit in Vietnam, said, “It is an incredibly difficult decision because once you make it you have to change from making seasonal flu vaccines and go to making a vaccine for this virus.” And dedicated manufacturing of a vaccine against H7N9 vaccine could cause shortages of vaccine against normal season flu.
Vaccine manufacturers include Sanofi Pasteur, the world's largest flu vaccine manufacturer, said it was in continuous contact with the WHO through the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), but it was too soon to know the significance of the Chinese cases.
CDC says it continues to monitor the situation closely, coordinating with domestic and international partners in a number of areas, including gathering more information to make a knowledgeable public health risk assessment and developing a candidate vaccine virus. CDC also is reviewing posted genetic sequencing of the new H7N9 viruses and assessing possible implications in terms of the viruses’ transmissibility and severity.
Dr. Shaw told GEN that, “The biggest public health concern at the moment is that the virus has already adapted to infecting humans, and that it has mutations that suggest it has infected mammals sometime in its evolution. But, it’s reassuring that it’s not moving from human to human thus far. Also, the human and avian sequences we have from China show us that the virus is still mutating; it hasn’t stabilized and could still change.”
Right now he said, the Chinese have checked more than 600 contacts of patients and all those individuals have been negative for the virus. “But,” he added, “we are in a situation where we think it is in our interest that we have a vaccine candidate ready for production if needed. Sustained human spread would be the trigger to widespread production, and having a candidate vaccine virus ready to go that has been tested is important.”
And right now, he said, the policy is “watchful waiting while putting the pieces in place for a vaccine rollout should it be needed.”