Will sequencing swine flu virus help develop trivalent vaccine? Yes, says expert

A woman receives a vaccine injection against H1N1 virus free of charge in Mexico City. (IANS)

A woman receives a vaccine injection against H1N1 virus free of charge in Mexico City. (IANS)

As the swine flu in India is taking away enormous dimension with all the states experiencing stress under inadequate medical infrastructure, an expert has advised the nation to sequence the circulating strains to find out if the virus is mutated.

Rafi Ahmed, director of Atlanta-based Emory Vaccine Center in US, has asked for immediate screening of the samples for H3N2 and influenza type B besides H1N1 virus to prepare for future outbreaks in the country.

Talking to reporters in Hyderabad on Tuesday, the expert has recommended that instead of the current monovalent vaccine which targets only H1N1, India should go for a trivalent vaccine to provide better three-fold protection from H2N3 and type B as well.

Ahmed, who is on the advisory committee of the Indian government’s department of biotechnology, also suggested that India should participate in global efforts to develop an improved flu vaccine, which can protect from previous, current and even future strains of influenza.

He said the highest priority of public health officials and scientists in India should be to sequence the virus circulating in the country. “They should find out whether this virus mutated further. If there is a different pandemic H1N1 being circulated in India, it may have global implications,” he said.

When asked whether all three viruses can attack a person simultaneously, he repied in positive saying “It is not inconceivable.” He reminded that the US reported more influenza cases this year than in the past and majority of them were H3N2. “Both H1N1 and H3N2 are dangerous with mortality rate of 1 to 2 percent in case of pandemic strain,” he said.

“When you are doing PCR test to confirm H1N1 in people with influenza like symptoms, you should also find out how many are H3N2 and how many are B,” he said.

The scientist, who is leading a research tem to develop an improvised universal vaccine, visited vaccine-making unit Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad and extended collaboration in the field. Since the current available vaccine has efficacy of only 20 to 50%, he stressed the need to track it every year as it has to match circulating strain.

To be developed in 10 years, the improvised vaccine would provide wider coverage and people would need to take it once in five or 10 years, he noted.

Bharat Biotech CMD Krishna Ella said Ella Foundation had collected samples in Hyderabad and was trying to identify the strains. He also said the company was working on producing swine flu vaccine in bulk and was in talks with the central government.

It normally takes three months to manufacture a vaccine, which can be used for one year. “To deal with outbreaks and have a swift turnaround time, Bharat Biotech plans to build an inventory of bulk vaccine so that the response time going forward is reduced to a large extent,” he said.

It may be noted that the firm had to destroy its swine flu vaccine stocks last year-end in view of poor demand and short shelf-life of the product.

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