World is ill-prepared for inevitable flu pandemic
Vaccine production capability is nowhere near what is needed to deal with an "inevitable" influenza pandemic, the World Health Organization said yesterday (Frances Williams, Financial Times, March 19).
"We know another pandemic is inevitable," WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said during a three-day meeting of health experts in Geneva. "It is coming. And when this happens, we also know that we are unlikely to have enough drugs, vaccines, health care workers and hospital capacity to cope in an ideal way."
The experts called for the establishment of stockpiles of antiviral drugs. WHO influenza expert Klaus Stohr said antivirals could help keep a virus from taking hold before a vaccine could be developed. It takes at least four to six months just to begin production of a vaccine once a new strain of flu is identified.
Antivirals are in short supply, however, particularly in developing countries.
Health Canada's Teresa Tam said an international stockpile was needed because it would take too long to produce more antivirals in case of an outbreak. "If we think a pandemic is starting, such an international stockpile might be utilized to prevent small outbreaks at the start to try and avert or slow down a pandemic," she said.
Producing such a stockpile would take years, however, and experts were uncertain how much it would cost. Tam said more data was needed as to the drugs' effectiveness.
Vaccines are still the most important public health preventive measure, according to Tam.
Stohr warned that vaccines would likely be used first in countries that developed them. "How can we overcome this disparity?" he asked, adding that "10 percent of the world's population has access to 90 percent of the vaccines" (Alexander Higgins, Associated Press, March 18).