Representatives of 80 nations attended a meeting Friday, one hastily called by the U.S. on the threat of a global outbreak of bird flu.
Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services says the world is “obviously unprepared or inadequately prepared for a potential pandemic.”
The administration also signaled how seriously it regards the danger, with President Bush bringing CEOs of six vaccine companies to the White House to ask how to increase the nation’s ability to make a vaccine rapidly.
Manufacturing a vaccine for bird flu would involve the same techniques used for a vaccine against regular flu. But experts say the country’s flu vaccine system is now so weak that if there were a bird flu outbreak, a vaccine would simply not be an option.
Doctors say the long lines for seasonal flu shots and problems at factories illustrate the current difficulties making flu vaccine. “We still use 1940s technology to develop influenza vaccines,” adds Dr. Greg Poland, Mayo Clinic.
To fix the problem, experts say drug companies are likely to ask the government to guarantee they can sell large amounts of flu vaccine every year.
“So in the eventuality that all of a sudden, a pandemic flu crisis comes in, you don’t have to start from a very very low baseline,” says Dr. Fauci.
Other experts say that any solution to the vaccine problem will take years and cost billions.
The defense, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be other health measures, "like trying early on to isolate perhaps even quarantine."