The plan, announced by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, included the doubling of the UK’s current stockpile of antiviral drugs.
Dr Jim Robertson, Principal scientist in virology, National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), said:
“It’s really good that the UK government is strengthening our ability to respond to an influenza pandemic and that we are at the global forefront of pandemic preparedness. There is much we still do not understand about flu pandemics and how to prepare for them – can it be stopped, how easily can it be contracted, how deadly will it be, should I wear a facemask? – and the government needs to maintain this momentum in preparedness. It’s also good that the UK continues to recognise the need to help the developing world to build its own defences.”
Peter JM Openshaw, Head of Respiratory Infections, National Heart & Lung Institute, St. Mary’s Campus of Imperial College, said:
“This is an important landmark in the ongoing preparations for a future pandemic. It serves as an excellent model on which to base a wider European and international policy, vital for a disease that does not respect national boundaries.
“It is also a timely reminder that those who need annual flu jabs should get them done now. Each year there are 20,000 – 40,000 excess winter deaths in the UK, mostly due to ordinary colds and flu. So far, a total of only about 200 people are thought to have died of H5N1 bird flu.”
Peter Dunnill, Chairman of the Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering, University College London, said:
“The concern is that as this week’s WHO meeting in Geneva shows there is little progress on vaccines and with Indonesia refusing to provide samples from infected people unless it is guaranteed supplies of vaccine and China not cooperating, the main likely sources of a pandemic are out of control.
“I believe there is now only one solution in the next 10 years and it is to switch egg-based inactivated viral vaccines to live attenuated viral vaccines where the numbers treatable could be 50-100 times greater and no scarce adjuvants are needed.”
Graeme Laver, former Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Australian National University in Canberra, said:
“Instead of stockpiling more Tamiflu, the UK Government would be better off devising a more effective procedure to get Tamiflu to people who fall ill very very quickly. My advice would be to use the stockpile for early treatment, not for prevention; work out how to use Tamiflu correctly for seasonal flu, (ie in this coming winter, so people will be “trained” in how to use it if a pandemic does erupt). Imagine the panic if such procedures are not well known!
“You cannot stockpile a “pandemic vaccine” unless you know what virus will cause the pandemic. If they claim that guessing what it will be is better than nothing, I suggest it is in fact worse than nothing.
“They need to work out methods to make a vaccine quickly available if a pandemic does erupt, but wait until the virus is identified before actually making it.”