Clinical trials began in the Australia this week on a vaccine to thwart a possible flu epidemic of the virus that has so far killed more than 700 people worldwide. Similar trials will soon begin in the United States in the hopes of producing a vaccine in time for flu season.
Two separate seven-month trials to test a possible swine flu vaccine in Australia began on Monday and Wednesday; the studies have 300 and 240 subjects, respectively. Because it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and therefore flu season, Australian authorities said it was important to test vaccines there as soon as possible. “[The Southern Hemisphere] is where the problem is right now,” Nikolai Petrovsky [director of one of the manufacturers of the vaccines in the trial] told the Associated Press. “The demand was here yesterday. We’re right in the middle of a surge of swine flu cases where perhaps the United States won’t have to worry about it as much until their flu season hits in six months” [AP].
Vaccine trials will commence soon in the United States as well, federal government officials announced on Wednesday. The trials are urgent because it’s only after the two-month-long studies are complete that officials can assess whether the tested vaccine is suitable for widespread vaccination. In the trial, under the direction of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, healthy adult volunteers will be recruited at eight sites and given one or two shots, each containing 15 or 30 micrograms of vaccines made by two different companies. Some will get the injections concurrently with seasonal flu vaccines. If the shots seem safe in adults and the elderly, trials in teenagers and children as young as 6 months will be added [New York Times]. Two strengths of vaccine will be tested, and vaccine administration will take place at eight university research hospitals nationwide. Subsequent tests might also include pregnant women, who are at increased risk of complications if they contract swine flu.
The trials will be conducted in a compressed time frame in the hopes of developing a vaccine in time for flu season. Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 263 deaths in the United States as of July 17… well below the average death rate for regular seasonal flu, [so] there’s no reason to panic. As long as people take common-sense precautions, U.S. exposure to this global menace can be minimized [The Washington Post].
And an effective swine flu vaccine wouldn’t hurt, either.
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