Michael Fumento

There is no commercially available vaccine for avian influenza type H5N1, but we're getting close. It's almost easier to list who isn't working on one than naming who is. And while an avian flu vaccine presents some hurdles, all can be overcome fairly quickly.

The most time-consuming is that unlike our seasonal flu shots, which go straight from producer to distributor, avian flu vaccines must first be tested to determine what dose will provide optimal protection. The largest trial so far, conducted jointly by the National Institutes of Health and the French pharmaceutical maker Sanofi-Pasteur, safely produced immunity in healthy adults.

That vaccine is now being tested on children and the elderly, but Uncle Sam has enough faith in it to have already purchased $100 million worth. Chiron Corporation of California has a $62.5 million contract to deliver vaccine to the U.S. next year. Other companies that are running trials or soon will include Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune of Maryland, Swedish-Dutch Akzo Nobel, and Belgian-based Solvay S.A.

Yet even an approved vaccine would be stuck with a 50-year-old method, wherein ya gotta break a few eggs (tens of millions, actually) and consume at least six precious months. Virus collected each February is first grown in one set of eggs to make "seed vaccine," then injected into those many millions of eggs, grown, extracted, and processed.

Michael Fumento

Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .

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