The health highlight of the week was the news that a single dose of swine flu vaccine can protect people from the H1N1 virus, a mild form of which is expected to infect 2 billion people (roughly one in three) people around the world.
As opposed to the logistical nightmare of giving people two doses a month apart, along with a conventional flu shot for protection against H1N1, the single-shot vaccine alternative means more people can be protected at lower cost.
The successes were reported by Australian vaccine maker CSL Inc and Swiss drug major Novartis. While the former reported a protective immune response with a singe dose of its vaccine, the latter stated that its vaccine worked even at a lower dose when boosted with an adjuvant (a compound that heightens immune response).
Three months ago on June 11, the World Health Organisation had put up a red flag and declared the new Influenza A (H1N1) as a global pandemic. As infection spread rapidly to almost every country in the world — the only countries that have not reported infection are the ones with no surveillance capabilities — people panicked, more so as the infection seemed to be singling out children and teenagers with health problems.
The panic, however, seems over with most countries choosing to open schools after a long summer break. It’s business as usual at airports, which were the hotbeds of infection two months ago. Hopping across three airports in Europe over the last fortnight, I noticed only three masked couples — two Indian couples and one Japanese (I shamelessly asked them their nationalities). All airports had signs informing passengers; Athens even had a thermal scanner. But no one wore a mask.
Football and forest fires get more media attention than the flu and rightly so. Here’s why. These countries have vaccine programmes in place to prepare for the flu season that begins next month. They are supporting some 20 pharmaceutical companies including Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca to secure vaccines as soon as they are ready. India’s health ministry, too, is on the right track. What’s needed in larger doses is less panic among people. Remember: every fever does not mean you have H1N1. Also washing your hands and sneezing into tissue stops infection better than wearing masks in public places. That just makes you look paranoid.