Flu jabs urged for developing countries

Written by Science Knowledge on 4:55 PM

Influenza experts are recommending an extensive vaccination programme against seasonal flu in developing countries, in part to boost demand for vaccines so that firms can ramp up production to cope with pandemics. The message came from scientists and policy-makers who met on 2–3 July in Siena, Italy, to assess the gaps in their knowledge about the current H1N1 pandemic virus.

The governments of many developing countries remain to be convinced that flu is a major danger for their citizens relative to other health problems, says Abdullah
Brooks of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Yet Brooks presented research showing that around one-third of pneumonia deaths in children younger than 2 years old in his region can be attributed to the influenza virus. According to the United Nations agency UNICEF, pneumonia kills more than 2 million children under the age of five each year — more than any other disease.
At the meeting, experts recommended that pilot studies be conducted in developing countries to measure the prevalence of flu virus in sick children, and to assess how much a flu-vaccination programme would reduce the burden of disease in the countries.
UNICEF, health charities and the governments of rich nations would probably be approached for financial support.

As well as providing a major public-health benefit, the effort could create a larger, more stable market for seasonal flu vaccines in the future. “A few months ago we were discussing whether we would need to close some of our manufacturing plants because we were losing so much money on flu vaccines,” says Rino Rappuoli, head of vaccine research at Novartis in Siena, adding that the current H1N1 pandemic has helped to avert any closures as governments race to stock up on vaccines. For example, the firm was awarded US$289 million by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Bethesda, Maryland, in May to produce H1N1 vaccine antigen as well as an adjuvant to amplify the immune response to the vaccine, thus reducing the amount of antigen needed in each shot and stretching manufacturing-plant capacity. Other vaccine companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi Pasteur, CSL Biotherapies and MedImmune, will also benefit from $643 million in HHS orders. says George Daley, a researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s flexible and science friendly.”

Sean Morrison, a stem-cell biologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, adds:
“The NIH has done what is best for the field by having their own registry — one list that everyone can work from.” Some scientists, including Daley, said that they were disappointed with the exclusion of embryos derived for research purposes, but pointed out that the agency intends to revisit the guidelines as the science evolves. The NIH guidelines depart in one significant way from existing National Academy of Sciences standards; they do not require consent from gamete donors — only from the couple seeking in vitro fertilization services. The guidelines respond to an executive order issued in March by President Barack Obama.

Source of Information : Nature 09 July 2009

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