Officials in Europe approved a new vaccine recently that may offer some hope for preventing an influenza pandemic.
In May, the European Commission approved Prepandrix, a "pre-pandemic" vaccine, for marketing in the European Union. The GlaxoSmithKline vaccine is designed to be used in advance of a pandemic or just as it begins to prevent spread of the disease. Both Switzerland and the United States have ordered supplies of the vaccine, according to news reports.
"Pre-pandemic vaccination is an important strategy for addressing the current threat of a pandemic posed by H5N1," said Jean Stéphenne, president and general manager of GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals in a May news release.
The vaccine is based on the Vietnam flu strain, but reportedly produces an immune response against the H5N1 flu strain, which is of current global concern. If the H5N1 strain mutates or another strain becomes a pandemic, the vaccine may not be as protective, however.
As of June 18, the World Health Organization had reported 385 human cases of H5N1 infection from 15 countries, resulting in 243 deaths.