Bird Flu Vaccine?
February 13, 2006 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Bird Flu Vaccine Are we safe?

The news today indicated that we were 2 steps away from the bird flu mutating and causing a panademic which could possibly kill millions of people. How does this position tie in with the following link which indicates that a vaccine has been developed.
posted by malhaley to Health & Fitness (4 answers total)
The vaccine in the article you link to is not the typical sort of flu shot you get at the doctor's; it's a live virus, so deploying it in humans would be a measure of last resort. Live virus vaccines often have unpleasant side effects, such as making the subject ill; it's not something that I predict is going to be routinely used in humans unless significant numbers of people start dying.

And since birds are the major reservoir for bird flu, it's hard to imagine a way in which this vaccine could be useful to vaccinate wild birds. Wild birds are too hard to capture. It might be useful to vaccinate large herds of chickens, but then would you really want to eat such infected chickens?

However, if a pandemic arose, all those bets would be off and I imagine something like this vaccine would make its way into people very quickly.

As to how likely a pandemic is at this point, I think that our track record of prediction is pretty poor. There are a lot of factors at play, including the desire to save people from global suffering and death a la 1918, but also things like 'let's make sure my research funding has some political support behind it'. Again, I think the current state of the art in terms of pandemic prediction is lousy. Everyone's pretty sure that there is going to be another influenza pandemic one of these days, but I don't think anyone - especially not the learned heads spouting a lot of scare talk in the media - knows exactly when.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:36 PM on February 13, 2006

Are adenovirus-based vaccine vectors in use anywhere now?

One addition to ikkyu2's points: It's a lot easier to produce large amounts of this vaccine than it would be to produce an inactivated H5N1 by conventional means. This is a good qualitly in a measure of last resort....
posted by mr_roboto at 2:00 PM on February 13, 2006

You could stock up on Tamiflu in the vague hope that it actually does something.

Some of the (admittedly limited evidence) suggests it's useless against H5N1 though. Of course some of it also suggests it works. RMV.

Otherwise I guess you are just going to have to keep your self away from any potential vectors as much as you can I suppose.
posted by public at 2:57 PM on February 13, 2006

The vaccine being talked about in your link is HIGHLY experimental. There currently is no publically-available vaccine for avian flu, because we don't know exactly which strain with which genes will be the exact one that causes a pandemic. And even when we do, it will take at minimum six months to create a vaccine, longer to deploy it.

There is only one (conventional) vaccine plant in the entire United States, one or two in Canada, and very few overseas. Remember the manufacturing screw-ups and underanticpation of demand that led to a shortage of "regular" flu shots for the past few years in a row? Now multiply that shortage and incompetence by every human on the planet suddenly scrambling to get the precious vaccine to save themselves from a killer pandemic virus. Mass pandemonium would result. People would pay anything, do anything to get themselves and their families that vaccine.

If you read the official US Pandemic Influenza Plan, you'll notice that the government has already legislated the order in which people can get the vaccine, once it finally does become available. Not surprisingly, considering who wrote the plan, top government officials head the list, then health care workers. Then people between the ages of 6 months and 65 years with at least two major health problems that put them at risk for flu complications (i.e. breathing problems and immuno-compromising disorders, such as asthma plus cancer, or organ transplant recipient plus emphysema, or something like that). Then pregnant women get the vaccine, then mortuary workers and other community/health leaders, and so on down the list. It's going to be a long, long line.

Furthermore, the few known tests with other experimental bird flu vaccines (one wrapped up at UCLA earlier this year) have shown that people will probably need twice the usual vaccine dose to create an appropriate immune response. That may mean two or three shots spaced two weeks apart to create enough antibody build-up. That effectively halves or thirds our manufacturing capability, leading to even more of a shortage.

In other words, if I were you, I would NOT assume that there will be a vaccine for bird flu by the time the bird flu becomes an efficiently transmitted human-to-human pandemic, i.e. the criteria by which the World Health Organization defines pandemic stage 4. Assume instead that you will need to practice social distancing--i.e. stay home, stay away from other people so you don't get sick--for as much of the duration of the pandemic wave as is feasible for you and your family. My household is planning for several months of at-home quarantine, in part because I am unfortunately in an unusually high risk group for the pandemic. (On the flip side, it means that I am high up on that vaccine priority list I previously mentioned.)

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I think a few runs at your local CostCo is your best bet here...not reliance on a vaccine that probably won't be available in time for most of the population of the planet.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:41 PM on February 13, 2006

« Older Remember those short films on cable?   |   Failed to appear in court. But I really wanted to. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.