Swine flu prevention & protection

Swine Flu vaccine

Flu vaccine companies can only make one vaccine at a time: seasonal flu vaccine or pandemic vaccine. Production takes months and it is impossible to switch halfway through if health officials make a mistake. While some countries like the United States may be better prepared than others, American officials say production for next year's vaccine batch is so advanced they're nearly finished — the situation for many other countries is unknown.

About 70 percent of the world's flu vaccines are made in Europe, and WHO is trying to figure out how many doses of seasonal flu vaccine remain worldwide before asking vaccine manufacturers to start pumping out pandemic swine flu vaccine instead. Vaccine makers can make limited amounts of both seasonal flu vaccine and pandemic swine flu vaccine — though not at the same time — but they cannot make massive quantities of both because that exceeds capacity.

The impending decision to make pandemic vaccine will also complicate matters for countries in the southern hemisphere, where the flu season is just starting. WHO usually makes recommendations about which seasonal flu strains should go into next year's southern hemisphere flu vaccine in September. But if vaccine manufacturers are already making pandemic vaccine in the fall, that will mean fewer doses of flu vaccine for people in the southern hemisphere.

WHO has already put major vaccine makers on alert they may be asked to switch to making pandemic flu vaccine soon. According to Chris Viehbacher, chief executive of Sanofi-Aventis, Europe's biggest vaccine maker, his scientists are "working around the clock" on preparations for making a swine flu vaccine for when WHO comes calling.

Vaccine makers have a few options when it comes to making pandemic vaccine. They could add the pandemic strain to the regular vaccine, but adding that extra strain reduces the number of shots you can make. Manufacturers might also use adjuvants, components used to stretch a vaccine's active ingredient.

According to BBC news online (http://news.bbc.co.uk/), British scientists began work on a H1N1 swine flu virus vaccine on the 1st May 2009.Their efforts are under way at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) in Hertfordshire.The NIBSC is one of a small group of influenza centres around the world which will create a seed vaccine strain which could then be grown in bulk by manufacturers. The vaccine will work by tricking the immune system into thinking it has been infected with the H1N1 swine flu virus so that it creates antibodies against it. Then, if subsequently exposed to the virus, the immune system will destroy the invader before it can cause illness.

The first seed strain of H1N1 swine flu vaccine should be ready in three to four weeks. It will then take another four or five months for vaccine manufacturers to produce the vaccine in bulk.

The WHO raised the threat level to five - one short of a pandemic, its director general stopped short of asking vaccine manufacturers to switch to an H1N1 strain.

No-one should expect a swine flu vaccine to be available before the Autumn 2009. In fact most of us will have to wait a lot longer. Around 300 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine are produced globally each year. The vaccine includes three different strains of human flu so each dose takes three eggs to produce. If manufacturers switched to producing a single pandemic strain vaccine, they might feasibly triple the number of doses to around 900 million.

With a world population of more than six billion, there clearly will not be enough to go round and the disease will hit poorer countries hardest because they cannot afford to buy the vaccines. The UK government has contracts with two manufacturers to produce 120 million doses of pandemic vaccine - enough for two doses per Briton, if required. But unless you are a front-line healthcare worker or someone involved in an essential service, do not be surprised if you are not among the first to receive it.

If a pandemic is declared and vaccine production begun then most of us are likely to have to wait until well into next year before we are offered it. That is why it is so important to try to prevent an epidemic in Britain now. That would buy us valuable time in which to create a vaccine.

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