WHO cautious on flu vaccine


A swine flu vaccine may be further away than has been claimed, the head of the World Health Organisation indicated today.

WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan told the Guardian: “There’s no vaccine. One should be available soon, in August. But having a vaccine available is not the same as having a vaccine that has been proven safe.

“Clinical trial data will not be available for another two to three months.”

One-quarter of the Irish population could become infected with swine flu, according to the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE).

In a letter to GPs and other health professionals yesterday urging assistance with the pandemic, the department and the HSE said that even though most cases would be mild, “an infection rate in our population of 25 per cent . . . will generate sufficient morbidity to place significant strain on family doctors, hospitals, ventilation equipment and intensive care facilities’’.

Dr Chan's comments also come as Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, said it was “too early to say” whether a death rate of one in 200 - as suggested by some experts - was accurate.

Dr Chan cast doubt on British Health Secretary Andy Burnham’s claim that the first stocks of vaccine could be expected to arrive next month.

Mr Burnham has said Britain is at the “front of the queue” for supplies of the vaccine and would start to receive the first in August.

But Dr Alan Hay, director of the WHO’s London-based World Influenza Centre, told the newspaper Mr Burnham had been “a bit optimistic” about the arrival of the vaccine.

He said experts had expected a short series of outbreaks to peter out before reappearing in the autumn or winter and had been “a little surprised” by the degree of spread of the virus.

The first British patient without underlying health problems died on Friday after contracting swine flu. The patient, from Essex, died in Basildon.

Nearly 10,000 Britons have been confirmed with swine flu but hundreds of thousands more are thought to have the virus.

The number of cases is now being estimated as the numbers rise too high for individual patients to be swabbed and counted.