LONDON (Reuters) – Some of the world’s leading makers of flu vaccines say they could make hundreds of millions of bird flu shots for humans within months if a new strain of avian influenza ever jumps across the species divide.
One current outbreak of avian flu known as H5N1 clade 22.214.171.124b has killed record numbers of birds and infected mammals.
Human cases, however, remain very rare, and global health officials have said the risk of transmission between humans is still low.
Executives at three vaccine manufacturers – GSK Plc (GSK.L) Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and CSL Seqirus, owned by CSL Ltd (CSL.AX) – told Reuters they are already developing or about to test sample human vaccines that better match the circulating subtype, as a precautionary measure against a future pandemic.
Others, like Sanofi (SASY.PA), said they “stand ready” to begin production if needed, with existing H5N1 vaccine strains in stock.
“Many countries’ pandemic plans say flu shots should go first to the most vulnerable while supply is limited.”
There has also been a push among companies to develop a bird flu vaccine for poultry, a market potentially far larger than that for humans.
Less reassuring, however, is that most of the potential human doses are earmarked for wealthy countries in long-standing preparedness contracts, global health experts and the companies said.
Many countries’ pandemic plans say flu shots should go first to the most vulnerable while supply is limited.
But during COVID-19, many vaccine-rich countries inoculated large proportions of their populations before considering sharing doses.
“Vaccine hoarding and vaccine nationalism”
“We could potentially have a much worse problem with vaccine hoarding and vaccine nationalism in a flu outbreak than we saw with COVID,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which helps fund vaccine research.
An international framework for pandemic flu allocates 10% of global supply for the World Health Organization to share with low- and middle-income countries …
Who is Dr. Richard Hatchett?
- Since 2017, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)
- Credited as having “funded early development of COVID-19 candidate vaccines”
- Credited as having “devised the concept of social distancing as a non-pharmaceutical intervention intended to prevent the spread of a contagious disease”
- Considered an expert in “medical countermeasure development and public health emergency preparedness”
- Former Associate Director for Radiation Countermeasures Research and Emergency Preparedness at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), under Anthony Fauci
- Served in Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama administrations
- Received Secretary of Health and Human Services Award for Distinguished Service
- Former Director for Biodefense Policy on the United States Homeland Security Council
- Advisor to US government on handling of the 2009 swine flu pandemic
- Former Director for Medical Preparedness Policy on the Homeland Security Council under President Barack Obama
- Former Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director of the United States Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)