Vaccine makers prep bird flu shots for humans

STORY: Hundreds of millions of bird flu shots for humans could be ready to go within months if a new strain of avian influenza crosses the species divide.

That’s according to some of the world’s leading makers of flu vaccines.

The current outbreak of avian flu – or H5N1 – has killed record numbers of birds and other infected mammals.

But human cases remain very rare, and global health officials say the risk of transmission between humans is still low.

Still, executives at three vaccine manufacturers, GSK, Moderna and Seqirus, told Reuters they are already developing or are about to test sample human vaccines that better match the circulating subtype... a precautionary measure against a future pandemic.

Other companies, like Sanofi, said they “stand ready” to begin production if needed, and have existing H5N1 vaccine strains in stock.

However, most of the potential human doses are earmarked for wealthy countries in long-standing preparedness contracts, said global health experts and the companies.

It harkens back to COVID-19 distribution, where many vaccine-rich countries inoculated large proportions of their populations before considering sharing doses.

An international framework for pandemic flu allocates 10% of global supply for the World Health Organization to share with low and middle-income countries.

By contrast, the WHO is seeking 20% for other types of pandemics in the wake of COVID.

The WHO did not comment on the potential for vaccine hoarding in a flu pandemic but said it was "fully confident" manufacturers and member states would meet their obligations.

In all, the WHO said there are close to 20 licensed vaccines against the broader H5 strain of flu.

In February, the health organization described the bird flu situation as “worrying” due to the recent rise in cases in birds and mammals.

They also said they were reviewing the WHO’s global risk assessment in light of recent developments, including cases of human transmission in Cambodia where an 11-year-old girl died.