Flu Preparedness Dealt Blows

Science  23 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5756, pp. 1889c
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5756.1889c

PARIS— Efforts to wield two key weapons against a future H5N1 influenza pandemic have suffered setbacks. Last week, French vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur announced that a prototype H5N1 vaccine containing aluminum as an “adjuvant,” or immune booster, appears to offer protection only when two doses of 30 micrograms of antigen each were given.

Sanofi calls the study “progress,” but many researchers are disappointed that the booster didn't allow smaller doses to protect. Because the world's flu vaccine manufacturing capacity is limited, they had hoped that the addition of aluminum might bring the dose needed all the way down to 2 micrograms or less, enabling vaccine makers to make billions of doses. “[A] much better adjuvant is needed,” says Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, researchers report having isolated from two Vietnamese patients H5N1 strains that are highly resistant to the drug oseltamivir, stockpiled by rich countries. Before that, only one partially resistant H5N1 strain had been found. An accompanying commentary says the “frightening” results mean that oseltamivir must be used wisely and urges measures to prevent people from hoarding the drug.

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