The Clinton administration was so concerned about the stockpiling of H5N1 avian flu vaccines that they prepared separate stockpiles for the African countries that did not yet have the infrastructure to prevent a pandemic. A few weeks ago, the Trump administration approved an accelerated program to increase production of the H5N1 avian flu vaccine, in hopes that the recent upsurge in the number of swine flu infections will not be followed by a pandemic.
On May 2, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the bulk of the aging H5N1 vaccine stockpile will be re-injected in the coming year. A team of researchers led by Dr. Laura Troutman of the Agriculture Department’s Division of Plant Protection Laboratories will work to increase H5N1 production from a “low single digit” rate to 50 percent, raising the number of H5N1 vaccines that could be used by 15,000.
H5N1, also known as H5N2, is one of the deadliest and hardest-to-control flu viruses. In 2014, when it was first detected in humans, it killed 478 people in just 16 weeks. Both versions of H5N1 kill with characteristic ease, making it a threat to humans in almost any scenario.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this particular virus of avian flu, H5N1, which was first discovered in 1957, belongs to the H5 family of viruses, which include influenza viruses that cause “all seven of the great influenza pandemics in human history,” according to the National Pork Producers Council.
The government agency responsible for the establishment of the annual H5 stockpile said it began the $4.4 million program “four years ago when a demonstration unit was created at our USDA Center for Veterinary Research in Ames, Iowa, to research the possibility of increasing vaccine production to the 65 percent production level associated with standard pandemic preparedness.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that “fifty to sixty percent of human flu cases occur in the three to eight days prior to and the first two days after an influenza vaccination in the United States.”
The number of influenza cases that occur in people is entirely unknown, because with H5N1, the infection occurs before symptoms are already evident. So far this flu season, 14 people from eight states have fallen ill with the H5N1 strain, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Federal officials have no idea why an uptick in the number of flu infections has occurred this year, but University of Maryland medical center virologist Dr. Munichi Inoue suggested it is possible that people are gathering more immunity this year, given the regular annual influenza vaccine. Inoue also said the flu vaccine may not be keeping up with its natural rate of mutations and, as a result, he believes the flu vaccine is no longer as effective as it was when he was in his twenties.
One problem in dealing with a flu pandemic is the hard to refrigerate the virus because it cannot be “preserved” the way people can preserve various bacterial strains. Therefore, more and more vaccines are being made from eggs, which have a very short shelf life.
Previously, the government’s H5 stockpile had been a fairly small source of public assurance. However, as flu clinics go on the road or in schools, the stockpile will become an increasingly important public health resource.
Vice President Joe Biden attempted to quell fears of another flu pandemic, in a talk to the University of Maine Business Hall in Augusta. In his talk, Biden touted health care technologies like needleless vaccinations and vaccination solutions that “you don’t have to go to the clinic. You don’t have to be in the hospital.
And as, well, someone with their toes over a swimming pool, someone with a treadmill in the clubhouse and a herb garden in the garage, he did confirm that the drumbeat of death and decay—the past few years of hard rocking tsunamis—is going to slow as the country prepares for the final bite of ObamaCare, Obama Care, the clown car of disasters.
Roger Simon served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, and Sea Service Ribbon.