Nation’s First Vaccine Against Bird Flu Approved

More than 750 area residents have taken part in bird-flu research

April 17, 2007

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced the approval of the first vaccine in the nation’s history designed to prevent bird flu.

Much of the testing of the vaccine, made by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., was done at the University of Rochester Medical Center and involved Rochester-area residents. Last year John Treanor, M.D., professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology, led a pivotal study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that showed that large doses of the vaccine are safe and effective at protecting people against bird flu.

More than half of the 300 people worldwide who have been infected with the H5N1 type of bird flu have died, making the flu at least 20 times as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed 50 million people. Thus far the number of deaths has been low because H5N1 hasn’t acquired the ability to spread efficiently from person to person. If the virus does gain the ability to spread quickly among people, the vaccine would provide early protection until a vaccine tailored to the pandemic strain of the virus could be developed and produced.

The vaccine has been purchased by the federal government and is being stockpiled for distribution by public health officials if needed.

The research comes through the University’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, or VTEU, part of a Federally funded network of seven centers that the nation relies on to protect its citizens against infectious threats. Because of the role of the Rochester VTEU testing vaccines, more people in Rochester have been immunized against bird flu than in nearly any other community in the world. More than 750 people in the Rochester area have taken part in studies of bird flu vaccines.

Currently, citizens in the Rochester area are taking part in five studies aimed at protecting people against the H5N1 virus. The studies are looking at a variety of issues, including vaccine safety, the potential effectiveness of a booster shot, the response of the elderly to the vaccine, and whether an additive might boost the effectiveness of a vaccine.

Earlier this month the University was awarded $26 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to establish the New York Influenza Center of Excellence. The center is part of a network recently established by NIAID to protect people against seasonal flu and future flu pandemics.

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