April 05, 2003
Experts Estimate SARS Vaccine Will Take Years To Develop

WHO deputy director Alan Hampson estimates SARS vaccine development time in years.

WHO deputy director Alan Hampson, said the disease could be like AIDS with treatments taking years to develop. "It would take years to develop an anti-viral drug," he said. "The earliest you can expect a vaccine is in a small number of years."

German scientist Reinhard Kurth estimates 3 to 5 years for SARS vaccine development.

Reinhard Kurth, the head of the German government's Robert Koch Institute, was not exactly encouraging on Friday night. A vaccine for Sars could be developed, he said – but it would take three to five years.

US National Institutes of Health NIAID director Anthony Fauci offers the best case timeline for SARS vaccine development of at least a year.

If it turns out that some other virus is at work, those researchers will have to start again, cautioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Even under the best-case scenario, he said, a vaccine is at least a year away.

Clearly, for the foreseeable future the only real option for the halt of the spread of SARS is to identify and isolate its victims quickly and to minimize the chances of exposure in locations where SARS is known to be present.

If you think SARS is bad just keep in mind that it does not spread as easily as influenza does. If SARS was caused by influenza tens of thousands would already be dead.

"If SARS were an influenza pandemic," says Melbourne University professor of virology, Ian Gust, "and the mortality rate was similar to what it is now (about 3.5per cent), we would have tens of thousands of people dead, rather than less than 100." And that is not because the virus would be any more potent, but because it would be much more contagious.

An extremely virulent form of influenza, the kind that only comes once every several decades, could end up infecting almost half of the population of industrialized countries. With a fatality rate similar to that of SARS it could easily kill one percent of the total population. The 1918-1918 so-called Spanish flu (which really didn't originate in Spain) With a world population at the time of 1.8 billion and with a low end estimate of the number killed by Spanish flu as 20 million the low end of the percentage of the population killed by the Spanish flu was at least 1 percent.

Although the history of flu epidemics is non-mathematical, in this case, as Voltaire might say, the superfluous is very necessary. In 1918, when the world population was 1.8 billion, an influenza epidemic incapacitated 1 billion and killed 20 million, all within the space of 8 weeks.

Higher estimates of the death toll from Spanish flu yield a death rate of at least 2 percent of the total world population.

The most intense, to date, occurred in the last year of World War 1: the so-called "Spanish Lady" or "Spanish Flu" pandemic of 1918-19 which infected one billion people, half the world’s population at that time, and killed between forty and fifty million. This makes it the most devastating disease of man known, surpassing even the bubonic plague of the fourteenth century, smallpox in the sixteenth century and the human immunodeficiency virus/AIDS pandemic that is happening now.

With a world population of 6.3 billion and a current annual growth rate of 1.16 percent a flu pandemic comparable to the 1918 Spanish Flu would kill somewhere in the range of 60 to 150 million people. This would be approximately equal to about one to two years of world population growth at current growth rates.

Given the fatality rate of SARS infections we are lucky that SARS is not as easily spread as influenza. Still, there is reason to be concerned about the spread of SARS because there are cases of SARS which do not fit the more optimistic model of a requirement of close contact for SARS to spread.

Five of the 24 cases of Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in the southern Chinese city of Foshan examined so far by a newly-arrived World Health Organization (WHO) team were caught despite the patient having no obvious contact with an infected person.

The biggest defense we have against a highly deadly influenza pandemic is the speed with which influenza vaccines can be developed against threatening new influenza strain.

(MEMPHIS, TENN.--April 2, 2003) Scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital announced today the development of a vaccine against H5N1, a new lethal influenza virus that triggered the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a pandemic alert in February 2003.

The virus appeared in birds in Hong Kong late last year and subsequently killed one of two infected people with rapidly progressive pneumonia in the past month. St. Jude developed the vaccine in only four weeks from the time it received the H5N1 sample from colleagues in Hong Kong.

The announcement comes at a time when a second, as-yet-unidentified virus, has taken several lives around the world. The unknown virus, which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), appears to have originated at the same time and in the same place as the new "flu."

The development of the initial ("seed") batch of H5N1 vaccine is significant because humans do not have a natural immunity to the virus, according to Robert Webster, Ph.D., a member of the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude. Rather, humans appear to become infected through contact with chickens and other birds. In the past the virus killed only the chickens it infected. But the new variant of H5N1 also killed many kinds of wild birds, which is unusual.

Even if a new vaccine could be developed rapidly to counter a killer influenza outbreak the problem today is that there would not be enough production capacity to make influenza vaccine for everyone. However, as demonstrated in US Health and Human Services Cabinet Secretary Tommy Thompson's March 27, 2003 testimony to the US Congress House Committee on Energy and Commerce & House Select Committee on Homeland Security the United States government is funding research to develop vaccine production technologies that are more easily scalable than current vaccine production techniques.

For example, the President's budget foresaw and prepared for an influenza outbreak. It proposes to spend $100 million to ensure the nation has an adequate supply of influenza vaccine in the event of a pandemic. Due to the constant changes in the circulating influenza strains, we cannot stockpile influenza vaccine, and the current manufacturing methods might not meet the Nation's needs in the event of a pandemic.

Funds will be used for activities to ensure a year-round influenza vaccine production capacity and the development and implementation of rapidly expandable production technologies. We will work closely with industry to accomplish these goals.

More scalable vaccine production techniques also have obvious anti-bioterrorism applications. Therefore the development of better vaccine production capabilities have been given an added spur by the rising awareness of the threat of bioterrorism.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 April 05 07:01 PM  Dangers Natural Bio

SMITHBURTON said at April 15, 2003 11:20 AM:



Chetan Kumta said at April 23, 2003 4:22 AM:

Given that there is so much speculation on by when an effective cure will be available, what does the populace do?
I also understand that the mortality rate for SARS is 4%. What about the remaining 96%. DO they recover after a span of time as is the case with most viral diseases?
DO they have to remain under medication for the rest of their lives or till the cure is available. None seems to throw light on this. Could you advise me please?

Satan Bug said at April 25, 2003 3:51 PM:

SARS is a bioweapon from the U.S. (Ft.Dietrich, MD is its likely birthplace). There is no way that it could have EVER occurred naturally. Motives for releasing it in China:

Economic punishment for China (and now Canada) not joining the Coalition against Iraq.

Satan Bug said at April 25, 2003 3:53 PM:

SARS is a bioweapon from the U.S. (Ft.Dietrich, MD is its likely birthplace). There is no way that it could have EVER occurred naturally. Motives for releasing it in China:

Economic punishment for China (and now Canada) not joining the Coalition against Iraq.

Movie Primers:

Andromeda Strain
The Satan Bug

Good Luck...

Randall Parker said at April 25, 2003 5:46 PM:

Satan Bug, You are a paranoid ignorant lunatic.

Yes, pathogens like the SARS virus do occur naturally. There have been many examples down thru history where pathogens of equal or greater deadliness have jumped over from other species into humans and killed many people. If you were not ignorant of the history of human disease you would know this.

China's government is the one which is dishing out the punishment. The incredibly dishonest and incompetent handling of SARS by the Chinese government is punishing the Chinese people and the rest of the world. SARS is spreading because of the Chinese government's incompetence. Eventually millions may die and it will be the fault of the Chinese goverment that it kept the disease secret for months while not doing much to contain it.

To take this huge problem which occurred naturally and then was irresponsibly handled by the closed secretive Chinese government and blame it on the United States is grossly irresponsible.

Qi Wang said at March 26, 2004 6:02 PM:

Could anyone tell me which kind of vaccine is the best one to against SARS, killed virus or DNA recombinant vaccine or something else? Killed virus vaccine may be a good choice for developing countries because it is easier to be produced, but it may causes some safety problems. I think DNA recombinant vaccine is safe,stable and cheap. Could someone tell me how to identify the SARS-vaccine antigens by using bioinformatics? Just try to find out non-functional protein?

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