Bird flu debate should focus on new vaccines
For weeks, scientific debate has focused on the publication of two studies that document the lab creation of H5N1 virus, or bird flu. The debate included varying opinions about the case-fatality rate — in other words, how deadly the virus might be if transferred to the human population.
But Nick Kelley, a researcher with the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, says that part of the debate misses the point.
“Is it 60 percent or is it 2 percent? [Either] is still dramatically above what we see for seasonal influenza,” Kelley said. “And as along as it’s anywhere near what we saw in 1918, we’re going to have a major problem in the world responding to it.”
Kelley added that the case-fatality rate for the 1918 pandemic was about 2 percent.
New vaccine technology needed
He said that it’s time to get serious about finding a modern vaccine to combat the bird flu before we experience a pandemic.
“We need to dramatically alter the way we do our flu vaccine work right now,” he said. “We’re using technology that was pioneered in the ‘40s and ‘50s and refined in the ‘60s. And that’s just not sufficient for a 21st century problem like this.”
Part of the issue is funding, but there are other factors, Kelley said.
“We need more research direction,” he said. “And, we need a clear pathway from a regulatory perspective to get these new vaccines to market so that they are just as safe and more effective than what we currently have.”