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Swine flu - 'Vaccines are not the answer'

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Dr David Hill on why antiviral vaccines are not the answer to a possible swine flu pandemic, and why more fundamental action is needed

This article was originally published in the comments section of the Nursing Times website and

There is a great deal of misinformation in the West that we have an antiviral vaccine to combat the new swine flu virus. In truth, there is no currently no drug that will protect the global population against the virus if it spreads.

The present state of preparedness for a pandemic caused by pigs, birds and other animals is wholly inadequate. If it happened today, hundreds of millions could die.

Pigs are one of the closest genetic matches to humans, so the mutation from pig influenza to human influenza, is probably the most dangerous.

The problem with the present strategy is that it is predominantly targeting a drug cure. This is a totally false strategy for two reasons:

  1. Flu viruses are constantly remodelling themselves and where when a new strain occurs, like the present state in Mexico, it will take six months to develop a drug to combat it. It has to be noted that the Spanish flu (swine flu), which killed between 20 million and 100 million people nearly 100 years ago, did its worst in the first 26 weeks.
  2. Distribution of any new antidote would be a huge logistical problem and any vaccine could come too late for many.

Swine flu and antiviral drugs

  • A strain of the H5N1 avian influenza virus that may unleash the next global flu pandemic is showing resistance to Tamiflu, the antiviral drug that countries around the world are now stockpiling to fend off the looming threat. Reuters, 30 September 2005
  • U.S. health authorities (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) alerted doctors Friday that a prevalent strain of the flu is resistant to Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu antiviral drug – Wall Street Journal: Health (December 19,2008).
  • Virtually all the dominant strain of flu in the United States this season is resistant to the leading antiviral drug Tamiflu…This season, 99 percent do… If a Tamiflu-resistant strain is suspected, the disease control agency suggests using a similar drug, Relenza. But Relenza is harder to take; it is a powder that must be inhaled and can cause lung spasms, and it is not recommended for children under 7…Relenza, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is known generically as zanamivir. Tamiflu, made by Roche, is known generically as oseltamivir… – The New York Times: Health (January 8, 2009).
  • Tamiflu found to be 99% ineffective against primary flu strain USA Today (January 8, 2009).
  • There is no provision for a vaccine for swine flu and it will take at least six months to identify, produce and manufacture a vaccine in large enough quantities. This was the statement by Dr Iain Stephenson, a consultant in Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester who has just completed successful research on a pre-pandemic vaccine for bird flu. “We are in a position where if a swine flu virus becomes a pandemic we don’t currently have a vaccine for it,” he said. “I think that it is unlikely there will be widespread vaccine in less than six to eight months.” Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2009
  • Dr Ian Barr, from the WHO Influenza Center in Melbourne, said it was unlikely any existing vaccines would be effective against the new swine flu strain. China View, 27 April 2009

There are only two modern-day drugs supposed to save human life from any pandemic, Relenza and Tamiflu,and both are ineffective when dealing with certain new strains.

Both these drugs have to be taken within 48 hours of infection, but how does anyone identify that they have flu quick enough and get a dose within 48 hours? Fully identified symptoms can take several days to show. Indeed, medical advice is to stay at home if you think that you have flu and to avoid surgeries.

This means any flu infected people will have to wait until the doctor or nurse visits with medication. But there are too few doctors and nurses to cope with a pandemic, and few would receive medication in time.

For for all the above reasons, an international and national strategy based on a drugs solution is not the answer; we have to look at how animal flu makes the transition to humans.

Dr David Hill, World Innovation Foundation

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Kadiyali Srivatsa

    Influenza A (H1N1) virus resistance to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) was reported by WHO in July 2008. This antiviral treatment reduce viral shedding and so may reduce others getting infected. It is also said to reduce severity but not a magic cure as the Govt propaganda suggests.

    In children, Staphylococus aureus bacterial infection superimposed resulted in five fold increase in death of children in 2004-2007. 64% of the staphylococcus infections were drug-resistant. The deaths were very rapid: 45% of the children died within 72 hours of their first symptoms Bacterial coinfections boosting child flu deaths

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