Back-to-the-Future for Bird-Flu Vaccines

The problem with all of the currently produced vaccines for the H5N1 virus is, that they may not protect us when we need them the most.

There is no guaranty, that the vaccines in production now, would provide any protection what so ever against the Pandemic Flu virus, if and when there is one.

Influenza viruses constantly mutate, however, and vaccines are most effective against the highly specific strains that they are made from.

This makes it difficult to predict how effective a vaccine made today will be against a virus that emerges tomorrow.

The vaccines produced for one strain of the virus, may not be effective against the mutated new version of the same virus. 

In order for the current Bird-Flu (H5N1) virus to mutate in to a human pandemic virus, it would have to have substantial changes to its structure.

Any vaccines produced for the current H5N1 virus therefore, would most probably, not be effective against the mutated human pandemic virus.


Because of the above, I have always believed that the effort and money being spent in the production and the storage of the vaccines for the H5N1 virus, such as Tamiflu, is a real waste of resources.


Now however things may be different if the a team of scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) -a part of National Institutes of Health (NIH), succeeds in their project.

Led by Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIAID’s Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC), the team is reporting in the August 10, 2007 issue of the journal Science that they have developed a strategy to generate vaccines and therapeutic antibodies that could target predicted H5N1 mutants before these viruses evolve naturally.

“What Dr. Nabel and his colleagues have discovered will help to prepare for a future threat,” says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.  “While nobody knows if and when H5N1 will jump from birds to humans, they have come up with a way to anticipate how that jump might occur and ways to respond to it.”

According to Dr. Nabel, their findings should contribute to better surveillance of naturally occurring avian flu outbreaks by making it easier to recognize dangerous mutants and identify vaccine candidates that might provide greater efficacy against such a virus before it emerges.



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