Saturday, June 13, 2009

H1N1 - pandemics, vaccines and the global economy

So the WHO has declared a pandemic....after apparently much agonized handwringing. But from where I seems like nothing much has changed, and for the most part, it's life as per normal.

Any impact on the global economy? So far no apparent negative impact. It's travel as per normal. Shopping as per normal.

One good thing about the pandemic is the super boost for the vaccine industry, and all related industries with regards to pandemic preparedness.

Market Research Media estimates that the size of the global pandemic preparedness market is in the region of a staggering US$52 billion in 201o-2015. The orders for vaccines alone is sizeable. The supply of influenza vaccines to the European market itself will net GSK US$1 billion.

Vaccine safety

The safety of existing and new vaccines has been the subject of a raging debate. Much of the controversy centres around the inclusion of mercury (thimerasol) and aluminium in the preparations of the various vaccines. Thimerasol is used largely as a preservative, but has been incriminated in CNS and renal toxicity. There have also been suggested associations with autism in children. Aluminium on the other hand is use mainly as an adjuvant to increase the immunological response to the antigen. It has also been suggested to be involved in brain damage and behavioural problems in children.

Most of these claims are pretty alarmist and poorly substantiated but there have been a lot of pressures to remove these from vaccine preparations.

One other problem with vaccines relates to the fear of the unknown. Vaccines are usually produced throgh fairly complex biological means, many of which are proprietary and unique to companies. Many of these processes are fairly recent innovations, the safety of which have not been extensively validated. We really don't know too much about the long term consequences of being exposed to products and contaminants from these commercial bio-industrial processes. On surface they appear to be safe. We can only hope that the longer term effects will be just as innocuous.

Gor more information about vaccine safety:
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Immunization Safety Office

Vaccines are still one of the most effective means to control infections, and good access to vaccines is of critical importance in managing epidemics and pandemics such as those caused by the current novel H1N1. The issue of vaccine safety is difficult to resolve because many of the suggested toxic effects are much delayed effects whose postulated causal relationship with the vaccines are extremely difficult to prove. Nevertheless it is vitally important for health authorities to address these issues openly and provide a high degree of public reassurance. In this pandemic, there will be pressures to embark on vaccination programmes early, and perhaps prematurely, before full clinical trialing has been completed. Full public disclosure of data relating to the vaccine safety will be even more important.

No comments: