Experts have been concerned that the bird flu strain, currently prevalent in Asia, could engender a worldwide pandemic, but apparently human tests of an experimental vaccine show it is effective at stimulating the immune system to fight the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says the results are a step forward but as yet do not overcome the major hurdle of producing enough vaccine to meet demand in the event of a flu pandemic.
According to Dr.Fauci, early analysis of tests carried out on healthy adults under age 65, showed the vaccine, which is made by French company Sanofi-Aventis, produced a strong immune response.
The vaccine which is made by French company Sanofi-Aventis, is grown in chicken eggs and production can take months.
In an interview, Fauci acknowledges that the development is an important landmark in preparing a nation for a flu pandemic, but says the problem that they have had for years, which is vaccine-production capability, has still not been solved.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 50 people in Asia since 2003, and public health experts say the virus is mutating and could develop the ability to spread easily from person to person and kill millions in a flu pandemic.
Health officials are working with vaccine makers to try and find ways to manufacture the vaccine more quickly.
Apparently when Government scientists tested the Sanofi-Aventis vaccine on 450 healthy adults under age 65, and analyzed data on about 113 of them, the results showed the doses needed, to produce an immune response that would be expected to protect against infection, were higher that usually given in an annual flu shot.
Fauci says that further tests in people 65 and older should begin within a month or so, and if those go well, additional tests are expected to be carried out on children.
The U.S. government has already ordered 2 million doses of the vaccine from Sanofi-Aventis for a national stockpile and is negotiating with the company to order more, says Fauci.