Year-end release likely for flu vaccine
LONDON - A fully licensed swine flu vaccine might not be available until the end of the year, a top official at the World Health Organization said yesterday, in a report that could affect many countries’ vaccination plans.
But countries could use emergency provisions to get the vaccines out quicker if they decide their populations need them, said Marie-Paule Kieny, director of WHO’s Initiative for Vaccine Research, during a news conference.
The swine flu viruses being used to develop a vaccine aren’t producing enough of the ingredient needed for the vaccine, and WHO has asked its laboratory network to produce a new set of viruses as soon as possible.
So far, the swine flu viruses being used are only producing about half as much “yield’’ to make vaccines as regular flu viruses.
Last week, WHO reported nearly 95,000 cases of swine flu worldwide, including 429 deaths. Most people who get the virus only experience mild symptoms and don’t need treatment to get better.
In a presentation to WHO’s vaccines advisory group last week, Kieny said a lower-producing vaccine would significantly delay the timeline for vaccines. That could complicate many Western countries’ plans to roll out vaccines in the fall.
Before countries can start any mass swine flu vaccination campaigns, the vaccines need to be vetted by regulatory authorities for safety issues. That means testing the vaccines in a small number of humans first, which can take weeks or months.
“I think it will be a very significant challenge to have vaccines going into peoples’ arms in any meaningful number by September,’’ said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “At this point, it is still is an issue of when will it be available, who will get it, and what will be the dose?’’