The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has ordered 190,000 doses of avian influenza vaccine to enhance the nation's flu-fighting capability amid renewed pandemic warnings, a senior official said yesterday.
According to CDC Deputy Director Chou Chih-hao (周志浩), the government decided to procure the vaccine from two foreign suppliers after a new resistant strain of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus deadly to humans and poultry was found to have spread through Asia.
Chou quoted a report by scientists in Hong Kong and the US as saying that the new virus -- dubbed the "Fujian-like" strain -- may have mutated in response to vaccination programs designed to halt the disease in farm flocks.
Noting that the strain emerged last year and has already spread throughout China as well as to Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos and Malaysia, the report said that the spread of this virus over such a large geographical region within a short period of time directly challenges current disease control measures.
Against this backdrop, Chou said the CDC has spent nearly NT$60 million (US$1.81 million) purchasing 190,000 doses of the vaccine against the H5N1 virus from two foreign companies.
The vaccine is 70 percent to 80 percent effective and has a shelf life of between six months and two years, Chou said.
Nevertheless, Chou added that although the vaccine has been proven safe and effective in preventing avian influenza in humans in initial clinical tests, it has not yet been approved for commercial sale.
Therefore, Chou said, the vaccine will be stockpiled for emergency epidemic control use or domestic clinical testing.
"Basically, only frontline medical and epidemic control personnel will get vaccinated," Chou said, adding that the vaccine will not be available to members of the public.
According to the procurement contracts, Chou said, the vaccine will be delivered by the end of this year.
"The vaccine will be ready for use if an avian flu outbreak occurs this winter," he said.
If each medical professional gets two doses of the vaccine, Chou said, the stockpile will be enough to cover 90,000 individuals, or one-third of the country's health care personnel.
Moreover, Chou said, the CDC has also kept in stock enough doses of Tamiflu -- an oral anti-viral drug for treatment of influenza -- for 2.3 million people, or 10 percent of the nation's population in accordance with the recommendation of the WHO.