H1N1: More Questions Than Answers

24 07 2009

Is it wrong to say I’m sick of pandemic (H1N1) 2009, influenza A (H1N1), novel influenza A H1N1, swine flu virus 2009, etc?  Not sick with, just sick of.

Yet, drop a hint of H1N1 into the conversation and I’m all ears (I know, it’s sick).

So many questions, so few answers at this time…

We’re hearing a lot about antigens and adjuvants in relation to the vaccines that are being developed by various manufacturers.

An antigen is the active ingredient in a vaccine that causes our bodies to produce the immune response, or development of antibodies, that helps us fight the virus, should we become infected.

An adjuvant is an additive that might be added to a vaccine to boost the immune system’s response and, we hope, reduce the amount of antigen necessary for the body to recognize and fight a virus.

If we can reduce the amount of antigen necessary for each dose, then we can further stretch our available vaccine supply.

Are vaccine manufacturers going to use an adjuvant, the additive that boosts our immune response to the vaccine (although scientists are saying we’ll still need two doses)?

There’s no definitive answer as of this date, 24 July 2009.

If an adjuvant will be used, is it one that’s been used before and if so, has it been used with a swine flu virus?

Adjuvants have been used before, but not against a swine flu virus.  No one knows at this time if this will make a difference.

For each potential vaccine, how many subjects will be tested in clinical trials before the vaccine is made available to the general public?

We probably won’t know until it’s done.

How much adjuvant should be used?  Will studies be done to determine age-specific responses to an antigen/adjuvant mix?  Will each manufacturer be using a different antigen and adjuvant combination and what pre-licensure studies will be done for each?  Will studies be done on at-risk populations like those who are immune-compromised or obese?

Don’t know.

Since one of the groups most affected by this virus is kids, and therefore the youth in the U.S. will surely be encouraged to get vaccinated, how many kids will be in the pre-licensure trials?

Don’t know.

We sincerely hope someone has the answers to these questions and shares those answers with all of us, although it’s encouraging to realize that vaccine development is not a new science and the world’s governments have plans for dealing with the many issues that arise in a pandemic situation.

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Scientists vs The Public: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

12 07 2009

A survey came out last week involving members of the public and scientists.  It says that 84% of the public feels that science has had a mostly positive impact on society.

That’s good news—shows we’re not trashing the scientific method.

About half of that 84% cite medical developments as the positive impact:  “The largest share of that group (32% of the total) names medical and health care in general, 24% cite disease research, cures or vaccines and 4% cite advances in the use of stem cells.”

While most of us are yahooing over the science, it has to be said that the scientists aren’t exactly happy about us.

A whopping 85% of scientists say our lack of scientific knowledge is a problem and almost half shake their heads at our unrealistic expectations.  They also say that members of the media kind of stink at educating the public and getting the facts right.  (OK, we’re paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

There are shocking differences of opinion between scientists and the public and some comforting similarities.

The survey covered more areas than are discussed here and is worth a read.  As members of the public, we walked away with the notion that providing more education in the sciences for America’s youth is a critical next step.

But, let’s not forget communication.

Scientists are more accustomed to lecturing than listening.  It’s not surprising, given the training they go through, but it can be alienating.  They need to learn to have conversations with us.  Listen to us.  And, we need to listen to them.

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