GAO: Big delays in pandemic vaccine access

The GAO says that a pandemic vaccine can offer little help during the crucial initial stages of an outbreak. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that it would take 20 to 23 weeks to develop and manufacture a vaccine targeted at a specific strain. And increasing access to antivirals--the second key strategy for dealing with a pandemic--would demand construction of new facilities and fresh sources of production material. The GAO also raised a red flag over Indonesia's refusal to make H5N1 samples available for research, fearing that they won't have easy access to any vaccines that would be made from them.

"The use of antivirals and vaccines to forestall the onset of a pandemic would likely be constrained by their uncertain effectiveness and limited availability," the GAO report says. To get the greatest effect from vaccines and antivirals, the officials suggest, rapid diagnostic tests would need to be available to identify people who have been infected. But test developers who have been given millions of dollars in government awards still need two to three years to deliver.

- read the article from CIDRAP

ALSO: European officials are warning that small bird flocks pose the greatest risk of spreading bird flu from animals to humans, noting that the large bird farms on the continent are under close supervision. "It's the hobby flocks--that's the main risk and where we fear that infection of the birds may spread to humans," says Johan Giesecke, chief scientist at the Sweden-based European Center of Disease Prevention and Control. Report

PLUS: Efforts to contain a severe bird flu outbreak in India has been hampered by the rain. Report

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