Green Party repeats call to WHO for flu vaccination of poultry workers
The Green Party today issued a call for the World Health Organisation to implement its own policy by vaccinating poultry workers in areas affected by Avian Flu with ordinary seasonal flu vaccination, and for the UK Government to take immediate action and vaccinate poultry workers in this country before the virus reaches our shores.
The reason for this is to reduce the probability of the current Avian H5N1 virus from combining (reassorting) with human influenza virus to produce a Pandemic Flu, which would have a serious impact on the physical and economic health of the world. It would not prevent the workers from contracting Avian flu from their birds.
Green Party Avian flu spokesperson, Dr Richard Lawson, a general practitioner, said: "One of the problems is that experts are giving the impression that the emergence of the virus is inevitable. This is not the case. We do have a chance of preventing the emergence of pandemic flu. The WHO scored a notable success in containing SARS, and they could repeat their success, given a major international effort and adequate resources.
"The vaccination of poultry workers is already in their policy , but it does not yet seem to be happening. This may be because it is the responsibility of the host country, not the WHO, to do the vaccinating, and maybe political, economic or educational factors are holding the national governments back."
The task of vaccination would be challenging, involving doubling or trebling the annual output of 300 million doses of vaccine, but the cost would be negligible compared with the astronomical cost and economic disruption caused by a pandemic of virulent Pandemic Influenza. The programme could be more easily achieved if the WHO expanded its list of approved vaccine manufacturers.
At present only 144 people worldwide (of whom 50 per cent have died) have caught avian flu from their birds, and it may need hundreds or thousands of cases to produce a recombination that produces pandemic flu.
Dr Lawson has been corresponding with a wide variety of virologists, all of whom have agreed that the proposal makes sound scientific sense. However, two months have passed since he first contacted the WHO, and there has been no reply to his questions as to why the policy is not being implemented.
"The WHO is obviously incredibly busy at present," he said. "Also, experts are interested in producing some kind of vaccine against H5N1, but it is clear that prevention with common flu vaccine is in this instance far better than attempts to limit the pandemic once it gets out of the bottle. The sooner we roll this programme out, the better its chances of success.
"Waiting for an outbreak before starting seasonal flu vaccination - as the UK government is planning on doing - is like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. We need the WHO to be more responsible than that."
Dr Lawson was the Green Party's campaigner for vaccination in the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK, a policy which has now been adopted by Government. He has also been proposing measures to reduce transmission of viruses through air travel and interpersonal transmission in the workplace .