If a new strain of avian influenza ever crosses the species barrier, some of the top flu vaccine producers in the world claim they could produce hundreds of millions of vaccines for humans in just a few months.
A recent H5N1 clade 188.8.131.52b outbreak of bird influenza has infected mammals and killed a record number of birds.
Global health officials have stated that the transmission rate between humans is still low and that human cases are still extremely uncommon.
As a preventative measure against a potential pandemic, however, executives at three vaccine manufacturers told Reuters that they are either already developing or soon to test sample human shots that more closely match the circulating subtype.
Others, including Sanofi, declared that they “stand ready” to start producing H5N1 vaccine strains if necessary.
Additionally, there has been a push among businesses to create a bird vaccine for poultry, a market that may be much larger than the human market.
The fact that the majority of the potential human doses are reserved for wealthy nations according to global health experts and companies, is less comforting.
Flu shots should be distributed first to the most vulnerable while supplies last, according to the pandemic plans of many countries around the world.
However, many nations with access to a wide range of vaccines immunized significant portions of their populations during COVID-19 before even considering sharing their doses.
Chief executive for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Dr. Richard Hatchett, stated that “We may potentially have a far worse problem with vaccine hoarding and nationalism in a flu outbreak than we ever saw with COVID,” which aids in funding vaccine studies.
A global plan for pandemic flu allows 10 percent of the available supply to the World Health Organization for distribution to low and middle income nations.
In contrast, in the wake of COVID, the WHO is requesting guarantees of a 20 percent global supply for different pandemics.
The United Nations claimed it had legally binding contracts with 14 manufacturers for 10 percent of their pandemic influenza shots “as it comes off the production line,” in a mixture of donated doses and doses the agency would purchase at a reasonable price.
According to the WHO, six of the biggest seasonal flu drug makers, are included in the agreements.
The organization did not address the possibility of vaccine hoarding. The company declared that it was “fully confident” that member states and manufacturers would uphold their obligations.
Manufacturers of vaccines would stop producing seasonal flu shots in the event of a pandemic and instead produce shots specifically designed to address the new outbreak.
According to data from human trials demonstrating the vaccines are secure and trigger an immune response, many of the potential pandemic shots have already received regulatory approval.
Therefore, even if they need to be modified to better fit whichever strain jumps to humans, they might not need additional human trials.
Real-time information would be gathered on how well the vaccines can protect against infection.
According to the WHO, there are nearly 20 licensed vaccines available to protect against the more widespread H5 strain of influenza.
For those who are already infected, available antiviral treatments will also lessen the effects.
At the same time, the manufacturers warned that switching to mass production of a more precise shot could take months.
Some potential shots employ a conventional technique that involves cultivating the vaccine virus in chicken eggs for 4 to 6 months.
The head of global medical strategy at CSL Seqirus, Raja Rajaram, pointed out that “Creating the first dose is the easiest. The hardest is manufacturing in large quantities.”
Researchers have consistently argued in favor of novel methods for creating vaccines against both seasonal and pandemic flu.
COVID demonstrated the potential of mRNA technology to adapt to viruses more quickly.
According to Raffael Nachbagauer, who is the executive director of infectious diseases at Moderna, the company’s mRNA vaccine research actually started with pandemic flu and was modified for COVID specifically.
In the first half of 2023, the company intends to begin a small trial of an mRNA flu vaccine customized to the latest avian influenza subtype, he said, adding that Moderna could react “very quickly” in an outbreak scenario.
As the information on Moderna’s seasonal flu candidate was conflicting, the outcomes will be monitored closely.
Nachbagauer stated that although the business was aware of the need to address the equity issue, no contracts had yet been signed because “it would be a bit premature to sign anything or to commit to anything that we cannot actually deliver on as of today.”