Feb 16, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) today reported “encouraging progress” on development of H5N1 avian influenza vaccines, while cautioning that global capacity to make the vaccines remains very limited.Following a 2-day meeting of vaccine experts in Geneva, the WHO said new vaccines aimed at various strains of H5N1—considered the likeliest candidate to spark a flu pandemic—look promising.”For the first time, results presented at the meeting have convincingly demonstrated that vaccination with newly developed avian influenza vaccines can bring about a potentially protective immune response against strains of H5N1 virus found in a variety of geographical locations,” the WHO said in a news release.”Some of the vaccines work with low doses of antigen, which means that significantly more vaccine doses can be available in case of a pandemic,” the agency added.However, the statement continues, “WHO stresses that the world still lacks the manufacturing capacity to meet potential global pandemic influenza vaccine demand as current capacity is estimated at less than 400 million doses per year of trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine.” The current world population is more than 6 billion.Sixteen companies from 10 countries are developing prototype pandemic flu vaccines against H5N1, the WHO said. Five of those companies also are developing vaccines against other avian flu strains, including H9N2, H5N2, and H5N3. More than 40 clinical trials have been completed or are under way, most of them involving healthy adults. But some companies have begun clinical trials in children and the elderly.So far, all the vaccines were safe and well tolerated in the groups tested, the agency said. Most of the companies are using vaccine strains corresponding to H5N1 viruses provided by WHO collaborating laboratories.Because pandemic flu viruses are products of constant evolution, no one knows how well any of the prototype vaccines under development would work against a pandemic H5N1 virus, but experts hope that the vaccines would provide some protection. Once a pandemic strain emerges, it is expected to take at least 6 months to produce a vaccine precisely matching it.Today’s statement strikes a different tone from that of a report on flu research released by the WHO last November. That report, based on a meeting of 22 scientists in September, said vaccine developments at that point did not look promising. One problem cited was that H5N1 viruses had branched off into a number of different subgroups, and vaccines that worked well against one subgroup did not work well against others.The November report also said many fundamental questions about H5N1 vaccines remained to be answered. Because of the many unknowns, the report cautioned governments against stockpiling pre-pandemic vaccines. Today’s brief statement does not mention stockpiling.The WHO meeting drew more than 100 flu vaccine experts, who heard and discussed information on more than 20 projects. The aim was to review progress in vaccine development and reach a consensus on future priorities. The meeting was the third of its kind in 2 years, the WHO said.The statement does not give an estimate of how many doses of H5N1 vaccines have been made so far, and further information was not immediately available.In 2006 the WHO launched its global pandemic influenza action plan, a program expected to cost $10 billion over 10 years, the statement noted. One goal of the plan is to enable developing countries to build their own flu vaccine production facilities.In launching the program last October, the WHO called for an urgent effort to boost vaccine production capacity and develop better vaccines, while cautioning that it would take 3 to 5 years for the effort to bear fruit.See also:Feb 16 WHO statement on vaccine developmenthttp://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2007/np07/en/index.htmlNov 2, 2006, CIDRAP News story “WHO report calls H5N1 vaccine stockpiling premature”Oct 23, 2006, CIDRAP News story “WHO seeks urgent push for pandemic flu vaccines”
I can remember the feeling of devastation as if it was yesterday. I was only eight and a diehard Milwaukee Brewers fan; I couldn’t comprehend what was going on.Major League baseball players were sitting out, and America’s pastime was shutting down. Being a Brewers fan was tough enough, and now baseball was stopping completely. I remember my dad trying to explain things like collective bargaining, salary caps and revenue sharing, but all of it sounded too strange. Why would these guys possibly stop playing baseball over a few dollars? They are baseball players! They have the best job imaginable. I would play for free!The net result of that 1994 MLB strike was the first canceled World Series in 90 years, managing to do what two world wars could not.So why is the strike important now, in the middle of baseball’s offseason, 13 years later? The Baseball Hall of Fame recently concluded balloting for its 2007 class, and headlining the ballot were Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire, a trio who dominated the ’90s baseball landscape, albeit in quite different ways: McGwire’s prodigious power led a league-wide power surge in the second half of the ’90s, Ripken’s durability allowed him to play every game for the first nine years of the decade, and Gwynn’s sweet swing led the National League in batting four times.The media reaction to the balloting results — which saw Gwynn and Ripken elected to the Hall of Fame with historic consensuses and McGwire falling far short of the 75 percent approval required for induction — oddly mirrored the attention each player received while he built his Hall résumé. The media attention surrounding McGwire when he was bashing fastballs farther than some puddle-jumping airplanes fly returned again on a lesser scale. This time, the focus was not on how many homers he popped into the stands, but instead on how many steroids or supplements he may have popped into his mouth.Ripken was expected to be there when the inductees were announced — the only question was how large of a percentage he would receive. Similarly, he was expected to be there every day when the starting lineups were announced — the only question was for how long he would last.Gwynn received very little attention. As a player, all Gwynn did was hit. A lot. Not long, towering shots like McGwire. Not every day like Ripken. In the SportsCenter era, Gwynn specialized in hitting singles — the least flashy play in baseball. Gwynn went about his business largely under the radar. When it came to the Hall discussion this year, Gwynn was the somewhat forgotten one, stuck playing third fiddle behind McGwire and Ripken. The three are all so closely tied to the strike-shortened season and its aftermath. McGwire and Ripken are largely credited with resuscitating MLB after the strike, and rightly so. The feel-good story of Ripken playing in every game for sixteen seasons mirrored how the average person showed up and worked every day. And the home run chase for Roger Maris’ single season home run record between McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation during the 1998 season.Gwynn’s tie to the strike is at the root of why he may be a less recognized player despite winning eight batting titles over his 20-year career. In a game where numbers and stats are king, and tradition is cherished, that ’94 strike-shortened season saw Gwynn take on an assault of the most elusive number in baseball: the .400 batting average. When the strike ended the season Aug. 12, 1994, Gwynn’s average sat at .394. It doesn’t get much closer than that. Had only three bloopers gone uncaught or three grounders found holes in the infield, Gwynn would have had his .400.Had the season continued, there is a definite possibility he would have raised his average six hundredths of a point and finished with the first .400 season since Ted Williams in 1941. As it stands now, Gwynn is the last hitter to seriously challenge for a .400 season (The highest average to finish a season since ’94 was Larry Walker’s .379 in ’99). If only Gwynn had reached that mark, his ’94 season would never have been forgotten. Gwynn would then almost certainly be one of the first players mentioned when the best hitters of all time are discussed. Instead, he may end up as an afterthought, as unfair as it may be. But there was much more to Gwynn’s game than just a productive left-handed stroke. Gwynn actually was quite the defensive player too, early in his career, winning five Gold Gloves between ’86 and ’91. As his career continued, knee and weight issues limited his mobility in the outfield and on the base paths. Fans who recall only the Gwynn of latter years may be surprised to find out that a younger, trimmer Gwynn was actually a prolific base stealer. Over a six-year span from ’84 to ’89, Gwynn stole an average of 34 bases a season, peaking with a 56-steal season in ’87.Perhaps part of the reason Gwynn is often overlooked is because he played a quiet game. He wasn’t especially flashy, didn’t hit a lot of home runs and wasn’t one for long streaks — his career long hit streak was only 25 games. In comparison, there have been 46 streaks of 30 games or longer in MLB history, including a 32-gamer in 1997 by some guy named Hal Morris.But Gwynn wasn’t just a baseball player. While at San Diego State, he also starred for the Aztecs on the basketball court as the team’s point guard, where he still holds records for most assists in a season (221) and most assists in a career (590, held by a margin of nearly 200). He also ranks third all-time at the school for steals. And talk about your good days! On the same day as the Padres made Gwynn the 58th overall selection in the MLB draft, the Clippers chose him in the 10th round of the NBA draft.Not surprisingly, not many people remember that either.Ben is a sophomore majoring in political science and journalism. Send your thoughts about Gwynn, the Hall of Fame or the strike to email@example.com.