Vaccines have been formulated against several of the avian H5N1 influenza varieties. Vaccination of poultry against the ongoing H5N1 epizootic is widespread in certain countries. Some vaccines also exist for use in humans, and others are in testing, but none have been made available to civilian populations, nor produced in quantities sufficient to protect more than a tiny fraction of the Earth's population in the event of an H5N1 pandemic.
Three H5N1 vaccines for humans have been licensed as of June 2008:
- Sanofi Pasteur's vaccine approved by the United States in April 2007,
- GlaxoSmithKline's vaccine Pandemrix approved by the European Union in May 2008, and
- CSL Limited's vaccine approved by Australia in June 2008.
All are produced in eggs and would require many months to be altered to a pandemic version.
H5N1 continually mutates, meaning vaccines based on current samples of avian H5N1 cannot be depended upon to work in the case of a future pandemic of H5N1. While there can be some cross-protection against related flu strains, the best protection would be from a vaccine specifically produced for any future pandemic flu virus strain. Dr. Daniel Lucey, co-director of the Biohazardous Threats and Emerging Diseases graduate program at Georgetown University, has made this point, "There is no H5N1 pandemic so there can be no pandemic vaccine." However, "pre-pandemic vaccines" have been created; are being refined and tested; and do have some promise both in furthering research and preparedness for the next pandemic. Vaccine manufacturing companies are being encouraged to increase capacity so that if a pandemic vaccine is needed, facilities will be available for rapid production of large amounts of a vaccine specific to a new pandemic strain.
Problems with H5N1 vaccine production include:
- lack of overall production capacity
- lack of surge production capacity (it is impractical to develop a system that depends on hundreds of millions of 11-day old specialized eggs on a standby basis)
- the pandemic H5N1 might be lethal to chickens
Cell culture (cell-based) manufacturing technology can be applied to influenza vaccines as they are with most viral vaccines and thereby solve the problems associated with creating flu vaccines using chicken eggs as is currently done.:
- Currently, influenza vaccine for the annual, seasonal influenza program comes from four manufacturers. However, only a single manufacturer produces the annual vaccine entirely within the U.S. Thus, if a pandemic occurred and existing U.S.-based influenza vaccine manufacturing capacity was completely diverted to producing a pandemic vaccine, supply would be severely limited. Moreover, because the annual influenza manufacturing process takes place during most of the year, the time and capacity to produce vaccine against potential pandemic viruses for a stockpile, while continuing annual influenza vaccine production, is limited. Since supply will be limited, it is critical for HHS to be able to direct vaccine distribution in accordance with predefined groups (see Appendix D); HHS will ensure the building of capacity and will engage states in a discussion about the purchase and distribution of pandemic influenza vaccine.
- Vaccine production capacity: The protective immune response generated by current influenza vaccines is largely based on viral hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) antigens in the vaccine. As a consequence, the basis of influenza vaccine manufacturing is growing massive quantities of virus in order to have sufficient amounts of these protein antigens to stimulate immune responses. Influenza vaccines used in the United States and around world are manufactured by growing virus in fertilized hens' eggs, a commercial process that has been in place for decades. To achieve current vaccine production targets millions of 11-day old fertilized eggs must be available every day of production.
- In the near term, further expansion of these systems will provide additional capacity for the U.S.-based production of both seasonal and pandemic vaccines, however, the surge capacity that will be needed for a pandemic response cannot be met by egg-based vaccine production alone, as it is impractical to develop a system that depends on hundreds of millions of 11-day old specialized eggs on a standby basis. In addition, because a pandemic could result from an avian influenza strain that is lethal to chickens, it is impossible to ensure that eggs will be available to produce vaccine when needed.
- In contrast, cell culture manufacturing technology can be applied to influenza vaccines as they are with most viral vaccines (e.g., polio vaccine, measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, chickenpox vaccine). In this system, viruses are grown in closed systems such as bioreactors containing large numbers of cells in growth media rather than eggs. The surge capacity afforded by cell-based technology is insensitive to seasons and can be adjusted to vaccine demand, as capacity can be increased or decreased by the number of bioreactors or the volume used within a bioreactor. In addition to supporting basic research on cell-based influenza vaccine development, HHS is currently supporting a number of vaccine manufacturers in the advanced development of cell-based influenza vaccines with the goal of developing U.S.-licensed cell-based influenza vaccines produced in the United States. The US government has purchased from Sanofi Pasteur and Chiron Corporation several million doses of vaccine meant to be used in case of an influenza pandemic of H5N1 avian influenza and is conducting clinical trials with these vaccines. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have had success with a genetically engineered vaccine that took only a month to make and completely protected chickens from the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus.
- In addition to supporting basic research on cell-based influenza vaccine development, HHS is currently supporting a number of vaccine manufacturers in the advanced development of cell-based influenza vaccines with the goal of developing U.S.-licensed cell-based influenza vaccines produced in the United States. Dose-sparing technologies. Current U.S.-licensed vaccines stimulate an immune response based on the quantity of HA (hemagglutinin) antigen included in the dose. Methods to stimulate a strong immune response using less HA antigen are being studied in H5N1 and H9N2 vaccine trials. These include changing the mode of delivery from intramuscular to intradermal and the addition of immune-enhancing adjuvant to the vaccine formulation. Additionally, HHS is soliciting contract proposals from manufacturers of vaccines, adjuvants, and medical devices for the development and licensure of influenza vaccines that will provide dose-sparing alternative strategies.
Chiron Corporation is now recertified and under contract with the National Institutes of Health to produce 8,000–10,000 investigational doses of Avian Flu (H5N1) vaccine. MedImmune and Aventis Pasteur are under similar contracts. The United States government hopes to obtain enough vaccine in 2006 to treat 4 million people. However, it is unclear whether this vaccine would be effective against a hypothetical mutated strain that would be easily transmitted through human populations, and the shelflife of stockpiled doses has yet to be determined.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported on March 30, 2006 on one of dozens of vaccine studies currently being conducted. The Treanor et al. study was on vaccine produced from the human isolate (A/Vietnam/1203/2004 H5N1) of a virulent clade 1 influenza A (H5N1) virus with the use of a plasmid rescue system, with only the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes expressed and administered without adjuvant. "The rest of the genes were derived from an avirulent egg-adapted influenza A/PR/8/34 strain. The hemagglutinin gene was further modified to replace six basic amino acids associated with high pathogenicity in birds at the cleavage site between hemagglutinin 1 and hemagglutinin 2. Immunogenicity was assessed by microneutralization and hemagglutination-inhibition assays with the use of the vaccine virus, although a subgroup of samples were tested with the use of the wild-type influenza A/Vietnam/1203/2004 (H5N1) virus." The results of this study combined with others scheduled to be completed by spring 2007 is hoped will provide a highly immunogenic vaccine that is cross-protective against heterologous influenza strains.
On August 18, 2006. the World Health Organization changed the H5N1 strains recommended for candidate vaccines for the first time since 2004. "The WHO's new prototype strains, prepared by reverse genetics, include three new H5N1 subclades. The hemagglutinin sequences of most of the H5N1 avian influenza viruses circulating in the past few years fall into two genetic groups, or clades. Clade 1 includes human and bird isolates from Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia and bird isolates from Laos and Malaysia. Clade 2 viruses were first identified in bird isolates from China, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea before spreading westward to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The clade 2 viruses have been primarily responsible for human H5N1 infections that have occurred during late 2005 and 2006, according to WHO. Genetic analysis has identified six subclades of clade 2, three of which have a distinct geographic distribution and have been implicated in human infections:
- Subclade 1, Indonesia
- Subclade 2, Middle East, Europe, and Africa
- Subclade 3, China
On the basis of the three subclades, the WHO is offering companies and other groups that are interested in pandemic vaccine development these three new prototype strains:
- An A/Indonesia/2/2005-like virus
- An A/Bar headed goose/Quinghai/1A/2005-like virus
- An A/Anhui/1/2005-like virus
[...] Until now, researchers have been working on prepandemic vaccines for H5N1 viruses in clade 1. In March, the first clinical trial of a U.S. vaccine for H5N1 showed modest results. In May, French researchers showed somewhat better results in a clinical trial of an H5N1 vaccine that included an adjuvant. Vaccine experts aren't sure if a vaccine effective against known H5N1 viral strains would be effective against future strains. Although the new viruses will now be available for vaccine research, WHO said clinical trials using the clade 1 viruses should continue as an essential step in pandemic preparedness, because the trials yield useful information on priming, cross-reactivity, and cross-protection by vaccine viruses from different clades and subclades."
As of November 2006, the United States Department of Health and Human Services still had enough H5N1 pre-pandemic vaccine to treat about 3 million people (5.9 million full-potency doses) in spite of 0.2 million doses used for research and 1.4 million doses that have begun to lose potency (from the original 7.5 million full-potency doses purchased from Sanofi Pasteur and Chiron Corp.). The expected shelf life of seasonal flu vaccine is about a year so the fact that most of the H5N1 pre-pandemic stockpile is still good after about 2 years is considered encouraging.
- CIDRAP article Australia approves CSL's H5N1 vaccine published June 17, 2008
- According to the U.S. HHS (United States Department of Health & Human Services) Pandemic Influenza Plan Appendix F: Current HHS Activities last revised on November 8, 2005 at http://www.hhs.gov/pandemicflu/plan/appendixf.html
- Bardiya N, Bae J (2005). "Influenza vaccines: recent advances in production technologies". Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 67 (3): 299–305. doi:10.1007/s00253-004-1874-1. PMID 15660212.
- Denise Grady (March 30, 2006). "Doubt Cast on Stockpile of a Vaccine for Bird Flu". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 October 2006.
- Wired News
- Department of Health & Human Services
- NAID - 2004 News NAID - 2005 News
- New England Journal of Medicine Volume 354:1411-1413 - March 30, 2006 - Number 13 - Vaccines against Avian Influenza — A Race against Time
- CIDRAP News article WHO changes H5N1 strains for pandemic vaccines, raising concern over virus evolution published August 18, 2006
- WHO (PDF) article Antigenic and genetic characteristics of H5N1 viruses and candidate H5N1 vaccine viruses developed for potential use as pre-pandemic vaccines published August 18, 2006
- CIDRAP article HHS: Most H5N1 vaccine on hand is still potent published November 17, 2006
- IFPMA glossary