And we succumb...
The US government agency in charge of facilitating the development of a vaccine against bird flu approved on April 24 a vaccine developed by Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. (Full story on Fluradar.)
This despite the vaccine’s rather “limited” protection against the H5N1 virus; the vaccine protected less than half of adults it was given to compared with the 90 percent protection for young, healthy adults of typical flu shots.
Sanofi executives describes this the “’first key step’ in protecting people at increased risk of exposure to bird flu during the early stages of a pandemic.” While the FDA announced that this is the ad hoc drug that will prevent perpetuation of severe cases until the time a more effective vaccine can be formulated.
(Studies are looking at the use of immune boosters, called adjuvants, to try to improve the effectiveness of the H5N1 vaccine, and cell-based vaccines, which are faster to produce than are current egg-based vaccines.)
Tests have been conducted, and there were no reports of drastic side-effects. I feel though that it is no assurance of a lack of health risks from this vaccine. Nevertheless, this vaccine seems to be the best bet the world has got against the looming threat of a bird flu pandemic. In February, FDA advisers said that the Sanofi vaccine would be “better than nothing.”
FDA also announced that the drug is not yet available to the public. The US government will purchase and stockpile (enough for 20 million citizens), distributing the vaccine to its people only if and when outbreaks occur inside its borders. No mention of sharing outside its borders.
In this context, where does the pledge of extending assistance to bird-flu stricken countries come in?
It is but natural for the US to protect and propel its own interest first. But to keep this particular resource to itself when other countries are stricken by bird flu?
Clearly, the US benefited from the strain sample-sharing by affected countries. Clearly, also, the affected countries are not yet benefiting.
I do not question US policy-making, but I stress that there is a need to generate an awareness of and a concern about bird flu in developed nations, and lend a helping hand—if not for the sake of the people in affected developing countries but for everyone’s sake. Because, once bird flu strikes, it could spark more than a localized outbreak but a raging series of infections gone out of control.
Now is always an excellent time to address pressing issues. Not tomorrow; only when there is surplus. After all, these third world countries must be tired of purchasing (and begging for) leftovers from the world’s superpowers.