WHO warns of bird flu vaccine shortage

While the threat of bird flu has largely vanished from the evening news, vaccine experts are acutely aware of the ever-present danger of a human outbreak.

One reason why bird flu fears have abated is that new bird flu vaccines have been approved and are being produced in quantity. But a new WHO-backed study indicates that the quantity that's available is still nowhere near the amount that would be needed to fight a global pandemic. It would take 18 months to manufacture sufficient quantities of bird flu vaccine to combat an outbreak, says the study. And meanwhile vaccine production capacity may be on the verge of being reduced.

"We still don't have enough production capability to cover the whole world in the early months of the pandemic... and what is worrying especially is that the capacity to make seasonal vaccines... is now much larger than the demand for these vaccines," says WHO vaccine expert Marie-Paule Kieny.

The key issue here, he adds, is that global demand for seasonal flu vaccine is 500 million doses a year. But production capacity has zoomed to 800 million doses and is on track to hit 1.7 million doses annually in only five years. As a result, WHO feels that producers may soon cut back on vaccine production, and once facilities are closed they will not be reopened easily.  

- read the story from the AFP