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FDA approves avian flu vaccine

  |   Nov. 25, 2013 at 12:34 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first adjuvanted pandemic influenza vaccine, Q-pan, to protect against H5N1 influenza, or avian flu.

The vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, was developed in partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is under the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Using adjuvants in vaccine can reduce the amount of vaccine antigen needed to stimulate an immune response in people, Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

Antigen is the component of the vaccine that stimulates a person's immune system to protect against a virus. Needing less antigen in each dose of vaccine means more doses of vaccine will be available in a pandemic, Lurie said.

Every few decades, new strains of influenza emerge for which the public has little immunity. If a strain spreads from person-to-person widely across the globe, the virus could become a pandemic. All types of influenza can be deadly, including H5N1, better known as avian influenza or bird flu, Lurie said.

People contract avian flu through close contact with infected birds. Of the 600 people who have become ill with avian flu in the past decade, close to 60 percent died, HHS officials said.

"We now have a flu vaccine to protect the health of a greater number of people, should this deadly virus change from one that spreads from birds to people to one that can spread person to person like the seasonal influenza virus," Lurie said.

In an H5N1 pandemic, the U.S. government could have more than 35 million doses of this adjuvanted vaccine available within weeks to protect people, and GSK could produce additional doses to meet the nation's needs for this vaccine, Lurie added.

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