With the swine flu outbreak advancing by the hour, hopeful eyes are watching vaccine-makers. We've heard stand-by pledges from Baxter International, Roche, Novartis, and others--and today, Sanofi-Aventis added its voice to the choir. But CEO Chris Viehbacher (photo) also sounded a note of caution: If the company focuses on developing a shot against swine flu, it won't be able to churn out its usual season flu vaccines, too.
Viehbacher pointed out that the swine flu could prove to be less severe than its seasonal counterparts, Bloomberg reports. Indeed, the 100-plus deaths suspect/reported from swine flu so far is dwarfed by the thousands of patients who die every year from seasonal influenza varieties. If vaccine-makers switch gears to protect against a potential pandemic, that change could end up backfiring, he said. "That will be a very difficult choice," Viehbacher said at a news conference. "Clearly, if you make a swine flu vaccine and the pandemic doesn't actually occur, we could end up with no seasonal flu vaccine."
The UN's World Health Organization has set another meeting for later today to assess the pandemic level. WHO lifted its alert to level 4 on Monday. Since then, officials have announced the first swine-flu death in the U.S., and dozens of cases have been confirmed in the States, including some among people who had not traveled to Mexico, but contracted flu domestically. A smattering of confirmed cases--plus even more suspected but not confirmed--cropped up in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As the WHO has said, the situation is "evolving rapidly," so vaccine talks are doing the same.