An emergency vaccine against bird flu is being prepared in Pune for the entire South East Asia. Even as the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus has infected 397 humans causing 249 deaths,this is for the first time that World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified National Institute of Virology (NIV) and Serum Institute of India both located in Pune to prepare a pre-pandemic vaccine.
NIV director Dr A C Mishra told Newsline that the institute has genetically modified the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus. This means that the strain retains all its properties but does not kill. This reverse genetically modified virus has now been given to Serum Institute for producing a vaccine against bird flu.
Once the vaccine is prepared,it will be tested at NIV and then given to Serum Institute for large-scale production. Serum Institute of India executive director Dr S S Jadhav said WHO has given $ 2.2 million for the project as part of the pandemic preparedness. India will be the first country in the developing world to have this pre-pandemic vaccine,Mishra said.
So far India does not have a single human case of avian influenza. But experts fear that the H5N1 virus may mutate and spark a pandemic that could kill millions.
While West Bengal and Assam are reeling under an outbreak,Sikkim is the third state that has been affected this year.
The vaccine may not take long to be produced but the clinical trial in animals and humans may be a limited one,Mishra said. This is a global strategy to create a stockpile of vaccines as part of the preparedness for a new disease.
According to Jadhav,WHO is coordinating the global response to human cases of H5NI avian influenza and monitoring the corresponding threat of an influenza pandemic.
It also wanted to check if the institute could initially produce a seasonal influenza vaccine to fight coughs and colds. All influenza viruses (human and avian) are of significant concern to public health officials because these viruses can mutate rapidly.
Since there is no seasonal influenza vaccine in the country,Serum Institute developed the technology for one and is now ready with the vaccine.
Now we are at the second stage where we will make a totally new vaccine against the avian influenza strain, Jadhav said.