Flu vax researchers overwhelmed by trial volunteers

Fears about swine flu have spurred more than 3,000 people so far to volunteer to take part in upcoming clinical trials of a new vaccine. That's already more than the number scientists will need at eight different sites around the U.S.

"We don't generally ever get a response like this," Dr. Lisa Jackson, the principal researcher in charge of the clinical trials being readied at Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative, which fielded more than a thousand calls from people in two days.

U.S. government officials, meanwhile, say they plan to start vaccinating people in October, after researchers have a chance to review the data from trials that should wrap in September. And the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is reviewing how a new vaccine for A/H1N1 should be provided to people just as the fall seasonal flu vax campaign gets underway. The U.S. has placed orders for 200 million doses with MedImmune, CSL, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis. But health officials haven't ruled out a national vaccination campaign that would require up to 600 million doses.

Altogether more than 50 governments have placed orders for a huge supply of swine flu vaccine, providing a bonanza for the big manufacturers in the field. And smaller biotech companies are benefiting as well. Early this week shares of Vical, Novavax and BioCryst Pharmaceuticals all shot up as investors scouted the industry for companies likely to get a boost from the pandemic.

New research has highlighted the need to provide vaccinations to pregnant women first, who are among the most vulnerable to the swine flu. Pregnant women are also being advised to take an antiviral like Tamiflu now if they come down with the flu. A new study in the Lancet concludes that while it's still unknown just how the drugs could affect the fetus, the likely benefits outweigh the risks. 

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