New Zealand should look into making its own bird flu vaccine if a worldwide pandemic of the disease breaks out, an expert told health researchers Monday. Prof. Robert Webster said using local scientific expertise and a high-tech animal vaccine manufacturing plant would provide the nation with a back up to buying flu vaccine from neighboring Australia.
New Zealand has a contract with Australia's Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for eight million doses of vaccine within 15 to 27 weeks after a pandemic is recognized by the World Health Organization. The Australian company currently is working to develop a vaccine of its own. New Zealand also is stockpiling more than 850,000 doses of the Tamiflu influenza treatment, enough to treat about 20 percent of the population of 4 million in a major flu outbreak.
Tamiflu, taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, makes influenza less severe. Although no one knows whether it would work on a new pandemic strain of the flu, the WHO advises that governments have enough for 25 percent of the population.
Webster warned that if the H5N1 bird flu strain currently spreading from Asia mutates to a form that can spread easily between humans, nations might not be able to count on getting medical supplies from other states.
At least 68 people have died from bird flu since it emerged in Asia in 2003, according to WHO.
"If a pandemic comes, borders are likely to close and then ... where are you going to get your vaccines and supplies from," Webster said. Speaking after briefing staff at the Environmental Science and Research institute, Webster said vaccine manufacturing technology should be available in New Zealand. "The technology ... is not that sophisticated," he added, reports the AP. I.L.