IN OTHER WORDS : Flu vaccine

The announcement that an experimental vaccine could provide good protection against a dangerous strain of avian influenza is an encouraging development. But it’s also a reminder of how ill prepared the world is to cope with an influenza pandemic that could kill millions of people. By the most important measure, the vaccine looks like a solid success. As Lawrence K Altman reported in The Times on Sunday, the vaccine, made by Sanofi-Pasteur, elicited a strong immune response in a small group of patients. The rub is that the dose needed was so high that the amount of vaccine stockpiled and soon to be on order by the federal government would protect only a few million people.

Health officials are nearly unanimous in warning that the mere development of an effective vaccine is no guarantee of success against a pandemic. One uncertainty is whether this particular vaccine would work against a mutated strain. Another concern is that the current production capacity for influenza vaccine is so limited and fragile that it can barely cope with a normal flu season, let alone expand rapidly in the face of a pandemic. Health officials must develop practical plans to administer vaccines and antiviral drugs to contain an outbreak. They need to bolster surveillance systems to tra ck avian influenza in humans too. — The New York Times