Production of vaccine against bird flu could take months - UN official

28 January 2004

The production of a vaccine against 'bird flu'- a new outbreak which so far has caused a number of deaths but is not spreading among people - could take several months, a senior United Nations health official said today.

“We would currently estimate if everything goes well that when the horn has blown, that the pandemic might be there and that it will take still four to six months before a significant amount of vaccine can be produced,” said Dr. Klaus Stöhr, who is leading the World Health Organization (WHO) response to the outbreak of avian influenza.

The agency is currently coordinating efforts to develop a vaccine prototype to give to manufacturers. “We would guess that a very good scenario is that within the next two months, we have a prototype virus ready,” he said, adding that under more adverse conditions three months would be required.

“After these two months, the clinical testing will start,” he continued, noting that WHO would remain actively involved in this stage, expected to take another one to two months.

Once large-scale vaccine production is ready to go, companies would begin the manufacturing process. Dr. Stöhr said 11 have already come forward to join that effort.

Asked about a possible global epidemic, he said, “If a pandemic virus would emerge, then we would presume – these are estimates based on historical data – that this virus might travel around the world in a relatively short period of time. The figures which are being estimated [are] six months, four months, eight months.”

“Vaccine production might begin in six months, but we will not have, after seven months, vaccine available for the whole globe,” he added.

“Irrespective of how long it’s going to take, the vaccine will make a significant difference to all those who have access to them, and WHO would be ill-advised if we would not support every effort which we can take now to reduce the morbidity and mortality from the possible pandemic,” he said. “What we’re doing again is precautionary. We want to be ready and will contribute to this global effort if it’s necessary.”

 

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