Former WHO flu head calls for development of pandemic flu vaccine

CIDRAP News reports that the former head of the World Health Organization's flu program, Dr. Klaus Stohr, believes scientists should attempt to develop a prepandemic vaccine in an effort to "get the jump" on the next flu pandemic.

The report states that the idea was met with skepticism by other experts in the field.

Stohr, according to the report, now works for Novartis. In an opinion article recently published in the journal Nature, Stohr wrote that an effort should be made to pair an immune-system stimulant with a "cocktail" of flu strains that might be the next cause of a pandemic outbreak.

The report states that the idea has been floated previously, but safety concerns and the unpredictable nature of a pandemic flu have been some of several reasons the idea has not gone far past the drawing board.

The report states that Stohr believes such a vaccine would help alter the current response to a pandemic, such as the H1NI virus, which he said involves waiting for one to arise and then taking half a year to create a vaccine capable of fighting it off.

"An increasingly discussed method is to immunize people against pandemic-type viruses before a pandemic strikes," Stohr wrote, according to CIDRAP News. "This could limit the spread of the virus in the early stages of a pandemic and significantly reduce the peak demand for vaccine. It would thus free up supply for countries where vaccination is patchy, or that do not have the infrastructure or budget to purchase any vaccine."

While scientists generally agree that new efforts must be made to prevent and contain pandemics, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, public health expert and director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, which publishes CIDRAP News, called Stohr's suggestion "not really practical."