This weekend has brought a fair bit of good news about the US production of the novel H1N1 `swine’ flu vaccine.
First we learned (on Friday) that the NIH clinical trials on adults showed that a single unadjuvanted 15 μg shot provoked a good immune response, and now it appears that at least some vaccine will become available to the public the first week of October.
While the quantity of vaccine that will be available in three weeks is unstated, it is – at the very least – a symbolic victory. The US will have brought a pandemic vaccine to the public in 5 months rather than the 6 that was anticipated - and without having to sacrifice seasonal vaccine production.
There are challenges ahead, of course. Big ones.
Delivering the vaccine to the arms of the public over the next few months will involve thousands of local health departments and tens of thousands of distribution points and will require immense logistical and planning support.
And although this vaccine comes into play just 5 months after the virus was discovered, it remains to be seen how much of an impact it will have on this fall’s spread of pandemic flu.
There are also public relations challenges ahead as well.
The last time we attempted a vaccination program of this scale it bogged down and was finally abandoned due to bad publicity over the vaccine’s side effects.
While serious side effects from this unadjuvanted vaccine are unlikely (it is essential the same as the seasonal flu vaccine, only the strain has been changed), people and the press are going to be particularly alert to any reports of possible adverse reactions after the 1976 swine flu debacle.
Even if no causal link to the vaccine is apparent.
But today the news is good. Bloomberg reports on the early arrival of the H1N1 vaccine.
By Tom Randall and Jason Gale
Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Swine flu vaccinations may begin in three weeks, earlier than previously anticipated, after the first U.S. tests found a single shot to be effective in eight to 10 days, U.S. health officials said.
The first shots may be available by the end of this month and administered to patients the first week of October, said Nancy Cox, director of the flu division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Health officials had previously planned for vaccinations to begin in mid-October, requiring two shots administered three weeks apart.
Swine flu outbreaks have rippled across U.S. schools and universities after pupils returned to classes in the past few weeks. Washington State University reported more than 2,500 cases, and the CDC last week reported a nationwide spike of influenza cases months earlier than the past three flu seasons. The test results are boosting hopes the vaccine may be available in time to curb the first pandemic in 41 years, Cox said.