Posted by: kenwbudd | April 28, 2009

H5N1 & H1N1 : Preparation and Vaccine shortcomings

UK to double pandemic flu drug stockpiles in a futile attempt to prepare for a an epidemic of Bird Flu (H5N1) in the UK. I carried out a research project for the European Space agency in 2006 and published a paper of the findings. I still retain an interest in the subject and my attention was drawn to a recent move by the UK government.

Pharmaceutical vaccines
Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) – 1st line vaccine is ineffective against new strains of emerging bird flu

Relenza (Zanamivir) – common flu vaccine, may dampen down the effects or the symptoms of a flu virus

UK Government statement

The UK has awarded contracts to double emergency supplies of flu drugs, promising to treat ‘everyone who is predicted to fall ill in a pandemic’. The government claims that this makes the UK one of the most prepared countries in the world. This will please the pharmaceutical lobby more than the National Health Authority.

Pharmaceutical lobby

The agreements with Roche and GlaxoSmithKline will double antiviral stockpiles, which are expected to be in place by April 2009. The contracts will deliver an additional 7.6 million treatment courses of Tamiflu (Roche) and 10.6 million treatment courses of Relenza (GlaxoSmithKline). Once the extra capacity is in place, there will be 33.5 million ineffective treatment courses of antivirals, with limited shelf life.

High mortality rates

The government states that without antiviral treatment, estimates suggest that up to 750,000 people could die in the UK during a pandemic. Antivirals will play a key role in the clinical response, reducing the severity of the illness and reducing the chance that complications such as pneumonia will set in.The onset of pneumonia is more likely to be a bacterial infection due to the immune system being seriously compromised and the treatment for bacterial pneumonia is antibiotics.

Current status

There are currently enough drugs for a quarter of the population, but the latest cross-government pandemic plan aims to cope with the worst-case scenario of an infection rate that could hit up to half the UK population. The new contracts awarded by the Department of Health is said to ensure that that aim can be met. Unfortunately that is not the case.

H5N1 mutations

The bird flu virus mutates regularly through its RNA and for it to become a pandemic affecting humans, it needs to develop the capability of crossing the species barrier, from birds to humans. It has yet to do this, as far as we are aware. Bird flu has mutated and crossed from birds to other mammals e.g. mice, rats, cats, pigs, etc. The greatest risk will come if the virus mutates from bird to human, using another mammal as an interim host.

Maybe the UK government know better. Because the bird flu has not yet mutated, it has not yet been forensically examined. Therefore, a matching vaccine has not yet been developed i.e. one that specifically targets, a yet to be mutated flu virus. In average, and with maximum effort, it takes scientists and pharmacologists 6 months to develop a new anti-viral vaccine. So we are still in danger, when the time comes, despite noises to the contrary.

UK Public Health Minister

Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said:

“The UK is already widely recognised as one of the best prepared countries in the world. The increased flu-drug stockpile means that we should be able to treat everyone who falls ill in a pandemic.” I think the key word here is ‘treat’ not cure. You can treat a broken leg with a band aid but it doesn’t help and will not ‘cure’ it.

Broken umbrella
Dawn continues “Antivirals are an important part of our robust countermeasure strategy and will ensure we respond effectively in the event of a flu pandemic.” Nice speech Dawn but a think you had better look behind the pharmaceutical companies’ curtains and see the truth for what it is, scary!

Further Information is available from; Roche Pandemic Preparation Toolkit AND GSK Pandemic Preparation page

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