UPDATE 4-U.S. says following new bird flu closely, preparing vaccine

Thu Apr 4, 2013 7:51pm EDT

* Virus has killed five people in China

* No evidence of human-to-human transmission

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, April 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday it was monitoring a new strain of bird flu and has started work on a vaccine just in case it is needed.

So far, the strain known as avian influenza A (H7N9) has only been found in China and does not appear to be capable of being passed from person to person.

The strain has killed five people, and global health officials are discussing if and when it may be necessary to start producing a vaccine.

The infections in China mark the first time humans have been afflicted by this new strain of bird flu, which causes severe respiratory illness.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency is monitoring the situation closely and working with its domestic and international partners.

The CDC has begun reviewing genetic sequence information on the strain and started the process of making a "seed" virus, a genetically modified version of the virus that could be used by manufacturers to make a vaccine. Because the agency is using artificial or synthetic DNA for this step, Skinner said the seed virus may be available within the next few weeks.

Then, several weeks of testing the seed virus in ferrets would be required to determine if it can be used to make a vaccine. If the answer is yes, then ramping up production would take several months. All told, said Skinner, production of a vaccine against the new strain - should one be needed - would not be underway for five to six months.

Before full-scale production of a vaccine begins, however, there are several questions that must be addressed, especially whether the virus is being transmitted from person to person.

"Right now there is no evidence to suggest that is the case," Skinner said in a telephone interview.

CDC labs will also be conducting tests to see if the virus is susceptible to current antiviral drugs used to treat flu, such as Roche Holding AG's Tamiflu, he said.

However, Skinner stressed that the steps the CDC is taking are routine preparedness measures that often apply when a new flu virus is detected in people.

Most conventional flu vaccines in the United States are still made using a 60-year-old process in which the vaccine is grown in fertilized chicken eggs. That method can take several months to complete, but it is changing.

In November, Novartis won U.S. regulatory approval to sell its cell-based flu vaccine, which uses a speedier manufacturing process.

In January, privately held Protein Sciences Corp won U.S. approval to develop the first gene-based flu vaccine, which uses genetic engineering to grow portions of the virus in insect cells rather than eggs.

Other U.S. flu vaccine makers include Sanofi SA, AstraZeneca Plc and GlaxoSmithKline.

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Comments (1)
MrBIG1000 wrote:
While the flu vaccine is touted as the “best” way to avoid catching the seasonal flu, what many fail to realize is that the science available actually does NOT support this conclusion. In essence, it’s wishful thinking that is unsupported by scientific evidence.
Take the Cochrane Database Review for example—which is the gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of common medical interventions—as discussed here in a recent article on GreenMedInfo.com. Here are five Cochrane Database Reviews, published between 2006 and 2010, completely decimating the claim that flu vaccinations are the best course of action to prevent the flu.
1. A large-scale, systematic review of 51 studies, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2006, found no evidence that the flu vaccine is any more effective than a placebo in children under two. The studies involved 260,000 children, age 6 to 23 months.
2. Two years, later, in 2008, another Cochrane review again concluded that “little evidence is available” that the flu vaccine is effective for children under the age of two.
Even more disturbingly, the authors stated that: “It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given current recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months old in the USA and Canada. If immunization in children is to be recommended as a public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required.”
3. Then, last year, Cochrane published the following bombshell conclusion:
“Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.
WARNING: This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry (four had no funding declaration). An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favorable to the vaccines.
The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding.” [Emphasis mine.]
4. Last year, Cochrane also reviewed the available evidence with regards to protecting the elderly, and the results were equally abysmal. The authors concluded that: “The available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older.”
5. They also reviewed whether or not vaccinating health care workers can help protect the elderly patients with whom they work. In conclusion, the authors state that: “[T]here is no evidence that vaccinating health care workers prevents influenza in elderly residents in long-term care facilities.

Apr 04, 2013 10:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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