Swine flu vaccine could take seven months, says official

May 2nd, 2009 - 10:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 2 (DPA) Development of a vaccine against the H1N1 swine flu could take at least seven months, the head of the Pan American Health Organisation Mirta Roses-Periago has said.
The top health official for North, Central and South America and the Caribbean was talking to reporters Friday after a formal briefing at the headquarters of the Organisation of American States in Washington about the H1N1 outbreak in Mexico, the US and other countries.

Roses-Pirago calculated that it would take at least a month to develop a “seed” for the vaccine in government laboratories, which then must be multiplied and transferred to industry for testing to determine safety and efficacy, and then production.

“So we’re talking about at least seven months for the availability of the new vaccine,” she said.

Roses-Pirago noted that most of the vaccine industry in the northern hemisphere is finishing up with production of vaccine for the new 2009-2010 winter season, and “therefore they may be in capacity to start with the production” by early June.

US health officials and Roses-Pirago said the world is much better prepared to handle a pandemic influenza after the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003.

The US finalised its new pandemic plan in 2005, and since that plan was put in place “we have been rehearsing that plan,” said Rear Admiral Steven Galson, a physician who is the acting surgeon general of the US.

“The world is better prepared for a potential influenza pandemic than any time in history,” Galson said. He was speaking at the Foreign Press Centre.

Roses-Pirago noted that globalisation had added new “capacities and skills to run faster than the virus”.

Public health officials are currently trying to limit the spread of the hitherto-unknown viral strain, which broke out first in Mexico or the US and has been mostly spread to the rest of the world by travellers. There is no vaccine for H1N1.

While the effects of the virus have been relatively mild, with only 16 confirmed deaths to date, there is worry that it could be followed by a more virulent strain in October or November.

That was the pattern of the devastating 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed tens of millions of people worldwide in a second autumn-winter wave that followed a more mild wave of illness in the spring.

Investigators including agents from the UN’s World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control are currently in Mexico tracing the origins of the outbreak, US officials said.

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