It has been a year since the first cases of pandemic influenza A-H5N1 were reported, and health professionals are still struggling with how to deal with it. One way is by developing vaccines for use in both animals and humans, but some parents are more resistant than others.
In a joint effort to combat the H5N1 virus, a vaccine was developed by scientists from all over the world. Therefore, vaccines are being distributed to poultry farmers first. One of these farmers is Bill Stone, who saw his chickens getting sick within days after being given the vaccine.He said that before people are allowed to be vaccinated, scientists should figure out why this particular variety of H5N1 is so much more virulent than other variants, which have been causing outbreaks in birds for years now.
Dr. Lance Norris is the head of medical research for Ferndale Laboratories, which produced the vaccine. He says there was still a lot to learn about H5N1 when they started working on the vaccine and that’s still true today. He also pointed out that their approach to developing both animal and human vaccines against pandemic influenza is cause for optimism. Of course, it’s still too early to tell if the vaccine will be effective enough in people.
The company declared that full-scale human trials would start soon and that they already know what the final dose of the vaccine should be. An advisory board is said to have made a decision about when and how these tests would be carried out. One of the members of that board is Dr. Janice Blanchard, who believes that human trials are still on track, but an expected delay might cause some problems with supply and shipping procedures for both the vaccine itself and the syphilis test required before people can receive it. For now, vaccines are being distributed to children, but once the adult dosage is set, both adults and children will have to take the test before being allowed to receive their vaccines.
For Dr. Ken Arnold, who has just returned from a family vacation in Paris last week, the vaccine was delivered overnight by express mail to his clinic. Some parents asked him why they had to rush with this vaccine in the first place, and Dr. Arnold replied that he told them “we have to sort out who can get it and who can’t before we know how effective it will be”. Since the tests on children have been approved by government officials, some parents think that they should get priority when it comes to access to this vaccine. They also want to know why there is a difference in price between the horse and human vaccines.
I think people would rather have humans vaccinated first, said one mother, but I can see why children would be given priority. Dr. Arnold also pointed out that the two doses of vaccine required for a child are less expensive than those for an adult. He also talked about concerns that the vaccine might not be as effective as hoped and that there is no way to know how it will interface with other vaccines children are getting already.
Dr. Arnold thinks this vaccine would be a good thing, even if only partially effective. Dr. Stephen Baum from Columbia University said early on that this would be a battle people have to win from within. He was right, as the vaccines being sent out can only protect against H5N1, not other strains of influenza. In the meantime, there are two confirmed cases of bird flu here in the U.S., both involving flocks in Iowa and Nebraska that were quarantined over the weekend.
In an unrelated story, another virus-related development has been reported in a last-minute press conference from the CDC. A deadly strain of enterovirus was just found in a patient receiving treatment for pneumonia in a hospital here in New York City. Dr. Paul Zukowsky points out that this particular strain is the cause of recent outbreaks in other parts of the country.
The CDC is still not ready to issue a formal health alert, but advises doctors to be on the lookout for any unusual cases of enterovirus that don’t seem to fit its usual profile. All samples are currently being tested and preliminary results are expected sometime today. As far as treatment goes, there is still no way to vaccinate against this strain, but doctors are trying their best to treat the symptoms.