Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Flu shot unable to combat virus strain
Associated Press ^ | Mon, Dec. 15, 2003 | DANIEL Q. HANEY

Posted on 12/15/2003 2:44:36 PM PST by ask

Flu shot unable to combat virus strain

Late last winter, a committee of vaccine experts designing this season's flu shot considered their choices. They had two, and both seemed bad.

Should they stick with last year's formula, even though a new strain of the bug was ominously building strength? Or should they try to make a new vaccine and risk complications or delays that could result in a shortage or maybe even no vaccine at all?

In the end, the committee voted 17-1 to bring back last year's version, even though they feared they were telling millions of Americans to roll up their sleeves for shots that might not work very well.

Many of them probably agreed with Dr. Theodore Eickhoff of the University of Colorado, who said: "For the first time in many years of participating in these deliberations, I must add I am very uncomfortable with the recommendation."

What Eickhoff and the others dreaded is exactly what happened. That new strain of flu became the dominant variety, accounting for three-quarters of all cases as the disease got an unusually early start this fall.

About 83 million doses of vaccine were made, but no one really knows how much protection from illness it gives. It almost certainly will not be the usual 70 percent to 90 percent, and some experts fear it is below 50 percent.

"We agonized. We asked repeatedly 'Is there another choice?'" remembered Dr. David Stephens, who chaired the panel and heads infectious diseases at Emory University. "The bottom line is, we weren't really given a choice."

Their experience shows the frustrating and often imprecise nature of humanity's labor to stay ahead of this perennial nuisance and sometime killer.

The flu virus mutates constantly. The Food and Drug Administration, with the help of its expert committee, must decide in late winter what varieties will be the biggest threats. Picking the best combination is a mixture of science, luck and seat-of-the-pants instinct.

"By the time you know what's the right strain, you can't do anything about it," said Dr. Michael Decker, head of scientific affairs at Aventis, one of the three U.S. vaccine makers.

The first inkling of something worrisome dawned on flu experts at the end of January. Just two weeks before committees were scheduled to meet at the World Health Organization in Geneva and the FDA in Rockville, Md., to settle on the makeup of this fall's vaccine, scientists who track the flu noticed a new strain was gathering mass.

The vaccine could theoretically protect against several strains of the virus, but because production is slow, the shot is limited to just three. Any of these flu bugs can make people very sick, but since it emerged in 1968 the one most likely to result in pneumonia or death is a type called H3N2.

Flu viruses are categorized according to the makeup of their two key proteins, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, the "H" and "N" in their names. Changes in the virus' hemagglutinin is especially troublesome, since this is the protein the human body aims for when it makes antibodies to fight off the flu.

For five years, the vaccine had protected against an H3N2 strain called Panama. Now that virus had mutated. A version with two differences in its hemagglutinin was causing outbreaks in Asia and had also turned up in Europe and North America.

The FDA's committee met in February and heard the bad news: The current vaccine might not reliably keep people from catching this emerging strain, called Fujian.

Nobody knew if the new strain would die out or gain strength, but Dr. Roland Levandowski, the FDA's flu vaccine expert, warned that new flu variants sometimes spread rapidly.

The WHO - which makes vaccine recommendations to countries which set their own vaccine standards - had already postponed its decision on H3N2. The FDA committee did the same.

When the FDA committee met again in March, the situation was, in some ways, even worse. Ten 10 percent to 20 percent of H3N2 viruses around the world were Fujian. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was having trouble isolating a sample that could be the basis of a vaccine.

"This is a very urgent issue," CDC flu chief Nancy Cox told the committee. "We've been working on this very intensively for what seems like a very long time. We're very disappointed."

Still ahead were many other steps, as well. The Fujian strain's hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes would have to be transferred into tame flu viruses that grow nicely in hens' eggs so vaccine makers could produce them in bulk. Even then, it would take weeks to know if the process would reliably generate the vast quantities needed.

"It became, Do we go with a vaccine we know will be partially effective?" remembered Eickhoff. "Or do we wait around and try to identify a possible candidate strain?"

When the vote came, only Peter Palese, head of microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, chose to switch to the Fujian strain despite the unknowns. He worried that an ineffective formula would give the flu vaccine a bad name because many people might get sick.

The WHO made the same decision as the FDA. In hindsight, was it correct?

Decker recalled what happened in 2000. Delays resulting from a switch to a new strain, along with a virus that produced poorly, contributed to a vaccine shortage.

A last-minute change to Fujian this year "could easily have meant not only a severe shortage but also the wrong vaccine," he said. "Right now, people are saying, 'You idiot, why didn't you choose Fujian?' But what if Fujian had petered out?"

---

EDITOR'S NOTE: Medical Editor Daniel Q. Haney is a special correspondent for The Associated Press.

ON THE NET

Meeting transcripts:

http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/03/transcripts/3922t1.doc

http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/03/transcripts/3941t1.doc


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Foreign Affairs; Government; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: flu; health; vaccine
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 121-132 next last

1 posted on 12/15/2003 2:44:36 PM PST by ask
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: ask

F**** the FLU shot!
2 posted on 12/15/2003 2:45:58 PM PST by ConservativeMan55 (A tiger is a tiger. Some things you can't change no matter how hard you try.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ConservativeMan55
Heheheh. That boy DOES get around don't he?

3 posted on 12/15/2003 2:48:15 PM PST by EggsAckley
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: ask
I am sure Bush is to blame...
4 posted on 12/15/2003 2:48:35 PM PST by Always Right
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: EggsAckley
LOL!
5 posted on 12/15/2003 2:49:42 PM PST by ConservativeMan55 (A tiger is a tiger. Some things you can't change no matter how hard you try.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: EggsAckley
F*** Sean Hannity.
6 posted on 12/15/2003 2:50:38 PM PST by ConservativeMan55 (A tiger is a tiger. Some things you can't change no matter how hard you try.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: ask
I'm sick as a dog right now. I think it's SARS. Or Monkeypox. Maybe even that stuff they're talking about on 24. I bet I got it from those chemtrail thingys. I did NOT get a flu shot this year. Never have, never will. I have to go back to bed now, and ponder the wisdom of that decision.
7 posted on 12/15/2003 2:54:07 PM PST by thatdewd
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ask
IMHO, it's best to let our bodies naturally build a resistance to these viruses.

Best way to avoid the flu, wash your hands.

8 posted on 12/15/2003 2:54:23 PM PST by appalachian_dweller (If we accept responsibility for our own actions, we are indeed worthy of our freedom. Bill Whittle)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ask
Hillarys socialized medicine plan - for the sake of the children - broke the back of pharmacudical companies. We're seeing the results of government interferance again. Failure.

Hillary's Flu Vaccine Crisis (News Max)

9 posted on 12/15/2003 2:54:46 PM PST by concerned about politics ( "Satire". It's Just "Satire.".......So it is.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ask
Seriously, though, doesn't this just illustrate how precarious things can be for us? What if a flu virus mutated so severely that it cause a 25-30% death rate? Could modern medicine be able to prevent it? This story appears to answer no, at least not very quickly.
10 posted on 12/15/2003 2:55:22 PM PST by Alas Babylon!
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ask
It's a bit strange that no one bothered to tell people that the flu shot was the same as last year until the stuff was all gone. I don't think I would have gotten a shot if I had known that, because I had one last year, and it was still probably doing its job.

I should have thought that would have been a consideration for the committee as well. I have no expertise and don't like to second-guess their decision, but it seems peculiar to me. I wonder how much of this was pushed by the drug companies?

I wonder who appointed Nancy Cox. She's all over the internet, but I can't seem to find a biography.
11 posted on 12/15/2003 2:55:40 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: thatdewd
I've got it, too.
12 posted on 12/15/2003 2:56:37 PM PST by EllaMinnow (I miss Chancellor Palpatine. Heck, I even miss Illbay.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Cicero
I had a shot last year, and I've got the flu right now.
13 posted on 12/15/2003 2:57:36 PM PST by EllaMinnow (I miss Chancellor Palpatine. Heck, I even miss Illbay.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Cicero
>> It's a bit strange that no one bothered to tell people that the flu shot was the same as last year until the stuff was all gone. <<

Execellent point. Now that the drug companies have made their profit they'll come clean w/ the truth.
14 posted on 12/15/2003 2:58:18 PM PST by appalachian_dweller (If we accept responsibility for our own actions, we are indeed worthy of our freedom. Bill Whittle)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Cicero
Kind of makes me feel glad that I didn't wait in the doctor's office waiting room filled with sick people who could have given me the same flu that the vaccine would not have prevented.
15 posted on 12/15/2003 2:59:00 PM PST by Orangedog (Remain calm...all is well! [/sarcasm])
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: redlipstick
The shot you got last year is the same one they gave this year but you got a different type of flu.

I wish I'd known this sooner and I could have saved the twenty bucks it cost me.

16 posted on 12/15/2003 3:01:37 PM PST by muggs
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: redlipstick
I've got it, too.

My sympathies. It's horrible.

17 posted on 12/15/2003 3:03:23 PM PST by thatdewd
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: ask
I wonder how many here actually get a flu shot?

I have never in my life and I have but once got the flu (at 15).
18 posted on 12/15/2003 3:04:14 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (I don't know... But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking... don't they?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: thatdewd
Flu Shot Demand Rises Sharply BUT Don't Be Fooled

The deaths of at least five Colorado children in the past two weeks to the influenza virus, coupled with what experts predict will be an especially miserable flu season, have ratcheted up demand for the vaccine and stirred fear among some parents.

Over five years ago, I posted a warning on the flu vaccines. Now we have an advertising campaign for Flumist that will cost an estimated $25 million. Sounds like a lot but Wyeth, the flu vaccine maker, will be spending another $75 million to promote this vaccine to doctors, for a grand total of $100 million.

Now, $100 million may seem like a ton of money to spend on ads, but does anyone care to guess how much they anticipate making on this vaccine?

The answer is a cool $1 billion.

The "experts" will use fear to motivate people to get a flu vaccine, but this is yet another health care illusion. Let's be clear, flu can definitely be a killer disease and is not something that should be easily dismissed. But, remember that flu shots don't prevent illness -- never have, never will.

The flu vaccine can actually weaken the immune system and make you more predisposed to the illness.

Just remember, the flu vaccine is not the answer to avoiding the flu.

People are dying from the flu because they are already sick and have compromised immune systems. The majority of the cause is surely related to eating too much sugar and too many grains, getting inadequate rest.

19 posted on 12/15/2003 3:04:34 PM PST by chicagolady (Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Cicero
I should have thought that would have been a consideration for the committee as well. I have no expertise and don't like to second-guess their decision, but it seems peculiar to me. I wonder how much of this was pushed by the drug companies?

The companies are unable to make a profit because of Hillarys price caps. What they throw away they lose financially. They have a business to run, and took the chance they'd survive and it would work.
There's no reason for the two companies that are left to work for free. They have no motovation.
These are the only two businessess we have left. The other four went out of the business all together. Hillary said it was for the sake of the children.
Everything she touches she destroys.

20 posted on 12/15/2003 3:05:22 PM PST by concerned about politics ( "Satire". It's Just "Satire.".......So it is.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 121-132 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson