Flu 2006 Spurs Paranoia and Innovation

January 1, 2006
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-01-02-2006, Volume 30, Issue 1

It's impossible to watch the evening news without seeing an update about the robustness of this year's influenza strains and the potential threat of the avian flu. Given the staggering mortality rate (about 52%) among human avian flu victims, I can't help but straighten up and listen to the reports as a knot develops in my stomach.

It's impossible to watch the evening news without seeing an update about the robustness of this year's influenza strains and the potential threat of the avian flu. Given the staggering mortality rate (about 52%) among human avian flu victims, I can't help but straighten up and listen to the reports as a knot develops in my stomach.

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner

Both infections pose legitimate public health threats; either could kill millions of people should a global pandemic arise. But, it's debatable whether this winter's impending threat is a true emergency or just a media circus.

Cynics in the crowd will note that many parties have inherent vested interests in public health emergencies. Everyone from politicians to investors in vaccine manufacturers have been accused of using public emergencies—or the perception of public emergencies—for personal gain.

It is nonetheless indisputable that most nations (the United States included) are vastly unprepared to protect their people against an outbreak of a highly contagious infectious disease such as the avian flu or countless other threats.

No matter which side you fall on, the flu vaccine dilemma highlights the vast gap between vaccine manufacturing capacity and public protection requirements. This season, the United States used all of the available doses (20 million) of influenza vaccine. To protect against a still conjectural avian influenza epidemic, we would need 300 million vaccine doses within the next 6 months, as CDC Director Julie Gerberding noted during the Nov. 20 edition of Meet the Press. To achieve this goal, almost every piece would need to fall into place perfectly, including developing new production methods. Fears about the flu have already spurred work in this area, but making information about new methods available to the public, and the profession, in a reliable, unbiased way is vital to the development process.

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner is the managing editor of Pharmaceutical Technology, kchiarello@advanstar.com.