Wealthy nations are stockpiling untested avian flu vaccinations 2023


With bird flu, the vaccination disparity may be considerably more pronounced than with Covid-19.

Here we go once more.

A variant of avian influenza (H5N1) that has been circulating in Europe, the Americas, and Asia has been demonstrated to be transmissible to mammals such as minks, seals, and sea lions. And although specialists believe there is now no cause for concern (for humans, that is; birds should be concerned), mammalian circulation does enhance the possibility that the virus may develop the potential to transfer between people, something that has not yet been detected.

The good news is that vaccinations exist. More precisely: They are readily available if needed. The United States maintains a stockpile of avian flu vaccinations, and vaccine manufacturers claim they could produce hundreds of millions of doses of the newest strain of bird flu vaccine in a matter of months.

Yet, there is a downside: the vast majority of the millions of doses of bird flu vaccinations that may be required in the event of a probable (though unlikely) human outbreak have already been reserved. For wealthy nations, of course.

More disparate than covid

At least three manufacturers, including GSK, the market leader in influenza vaccinations CSL Seqirus, and Moderna, are developing H5N1-specific vaccines. All three are close to human testing. By using the infrastructure for the production of seasonal flu vaccinations, producers could produce huge quantities of N5H1 vaccines rapidly.

Nonetheless, the great majority of dosages would comply with current contracts between medication producers and wealthier governments. For instance, GKS has had a pandemic preparation arrangement with the UK government since 2007. Moreover, it has agreements with Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark. CSL has made a similar pledge to the United States government.

In the few human instances known, the avian flu has proven far more lethal than Covid, with a fatality rate of around 50% compared to Covid’s 3%. Best practices for pandemics recommend that the most fair and, in the event of a virus that spreads through the air, the most prudent approach is to begin vaccination susceptible individuals worldwide before the whole population of any one country is vaccinated.

As Covid has demonstrated, however, this is not always the case, and a hypothetical pandemic of avian influenza may result in an even more uneven distribution of vaccines.

Rich countries are getting ready to stockpile vaccines against bird flu that don’t even exist yet.

In 2019, the WHO adopted the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, a legally binding agreement requiring drugmakers to adhere to two of several sharing options, including “donate at least 10% of real-time pandemic vaccine production to WHO,” “reserve at least 10% of real-time pandemic vaccine production at affordable prices for WHO,” and “grant royalty-free licenses to manufacturers in developing countries.” (pdf, p. 34)

For all other doses, vaccine manufacturers would be required to follow their commitments with wealthier nations first, leaving low-income nations — whose lives are at a greater risk owing to poorer health systems — without adequate vaccination alternatives.

Any prospects for equality would depend on the generosity of wealthy nations. Given the severity of the bird flu, it is reasonable to predict that these nations will focus on themselves first, resulting in greater disparity than with Covid.

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