Tests show promise for bird flu vaccine in humans

  • World
  • Sunday, 07 Aug 2005

By Lisa Richwine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Human tests of an experimental vaccine show it is effective at stimulating the immune system to fight the bird flu strain that experts worry could spur a worldwide pandemic, a top government scientist said on Saturday. 

The findings are a step forward but do not overcome the major hurdle of producing enough vaccine to meet demand in the event of a flu pandemic, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The vaccine is grown in chicken eggs and production can take months. 

Fauci said early analysis of tests in healthy adults under age 65 showed the vaccine, which is made by French company Sanofi-Aventis, produced a strong immune response. 

"It's an important landmark in the broader plan of how you prepare a nation for pandemic flu," Fauci said in an interview. 

But he added: "One of the sobering issues is, we still haven't solved the problem that we have had for years and years, which is vaccine-production capability. Are we going to be able to make enough of this stuff?" 

The H5N1 strain has killed more than 50 people in Asia since 2003. Public health experts say the virus is mutating and could develop the ability to spread easily from person to person and kill millions in a flu pandemic. 

Officials are working with vaccine makers to try and find ways to manufacture the vaccine more quickly. 

Government scientists tested the Sanofi-Aventis vaccine in about 450 healthy adults under age 65 and had analyzed data on about 113 of them, Fauci said. The results showed the doses needed to produce an immune response that would be expected to protect against infection were higher than what is usually given in an annual flu shot, he said. 

The test results were first reported by The New York Times. 

Further tests in people 65 and older should begin within a month or so, Fauci said. If those go well, additional tests are expected in children. 

The U.S. government has ordered 2 million doses of the vaccine from Sanofi-Aventis for a national stockpile and is negotiating with the company to order more, Fauci said. 

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