Time Asia reports on Vietnam's frantic race to develop a vaccine against the H5N1 influenza virus, also known as the bird or avian flu, which has been a persistent and potentially pandemic concern for this area of the world. And Vietnam seems to be at the locus, although it was recently reported discovered as far as Indonesia.
The problem is that the virus reference seed the weakened bit of live H5N1 used to build up immunity in the human body was mixed with cancer cells to help it replicate and then grown in a monkey kidney. That method is highly unorthodox. "People could get cancer from the vaccine," says Klaus Stohr, head of the WHO's global influenza program. Even more ominous, the developers say they've followed international procedures to ensure that the virus hasn't mutated in the making of the vaccine, but they haven't opened all their records or allowed an inspection of their labs. The chances of mutations are slim, says Robin Robinson, an epidemiologist and influenza expert at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but the Vietnamese method "may have provided a means for emergence of mutated H5N1 viruses in humans that may lead to a pandemic."
The question is difficult. If Vietnam tests the unorthodox vaccine on humans, which it has said it will do, there is a risk of mutation. The downside also would be going to the doctor to be vaccinated for influenza to discover that you've been given cancer. On the flip side, time might not be in luxery here. The WHO CSR (Communicable Disease Surveillance & Response) can urge Vietnam against haste, but the virus is not looming over Geneva. Likewise, when the world urged for the development of an Asia-Pacific tsunami warning system that might take years to develop cooperatively, Thailand took it upon itself to develop one independently. We'll have to see where this goes. For me, there really isn't a clear right or wrong here.
Posted by on June 13, 2005 4:23 PM | Permalink