First bird flu vaccine for humans OK'd

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: The Food and Drug Administration has given its blessing to the first bird flu vaccine for humans. Scientists are still worried bird flu could morph into a pandemic and kill millions of people. But in that case, this new vaccine might not help much. More from Helen Palmer at our Health Desk at WGBH.


HELEN PALMER: Less than half of the people who got this vaccine in trials actually developed antibodies to bird flu, but the FDA's chief of vaccines research Norman Baylor says it's still worth approving and stockpiling.
NORMAN BAYLOR: This is sort of an interim measure. I mean this will allow us to have a vaccine.

The vaccine's being manufactured in Pennsylvania by a unit of French drug maker Sanofi Aventis under a contract worth $150 million. Sanofi will produce enough vaccine for 20 million Americans.

But is this a sensible investment, given that the vaccine's less than 50 percent effective and only has a shelf life of 18 months? Yes, says Jeffrey Levi, of the nonprofit research group Trust for America's Health.

JEFFREY LEVI: A pandemic could start at any moment, and we need to begin stockpiling the most effective vaccine that we have.

If a pandemic were to develop, Levi says, a vaccine could to save some lives, rather than none.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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