An MIT Sloan School of Management expert on U.S. vaccine markets is “cautiously hopeful” that public and private sector players are far better prepared for North America’s upcoming flu season than they have been for earlier flu pandemics.
“Regulators, vaccine manufacturers, and public health agencies have been working very hard at coordination, both domestically and globally,” said MIT Sloan Professor Ernst R. Berndt, co-author of a recent book about the development and delivery of vaccines. Though a major mutation of the virus could create problems, Berndt says vaccine makers, government agencies, and others are better prepared to respond to the current virus outbreak.
“We are now benefiting from actions taken over several years, such as creating incentives in this nation for manufacturers to develop vaccines and build plants to produce them,” said Berndt. “We’re in relatively good shape on the manufacturing side, though we’re not quite sure what to manufacture because of potential mutations of the H1N1 virus.”
Berndt, who said a vaccine for the current H1N1strain should be in production by October,” noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “has plans in place to expedite as much as possible any regulatory actions needed to approve the vaccine.”
Further evidence that public and private entities are better prepared is seen in recommendations by an advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about priority populations for the H1N1 vaccine. Top priority groups include pregnant women, people with children under six months old, and health care and emergency services personnel.
Though the CDC reports that H1N1 is spreading in the Southern Hemisphere, where the regular flu season is underway, Berndt noted that it does not appear to be undergoing major mutations. “That means we can base a vaccine on the current version of the virus,” he said. “But as the surprising outbreak of the virus in the United Kingdom shows, we must monitor the situation extremely closely and be prepared to react.”
Berndt co-authored his book, U.S. Markets for Vaccines: Characteristics, Case Studies and Controversies (Washington DC: The AEI Press, 2014), with MIT Sloan MBA graduates Rena N. Denoncourt and Anjli C. Warner).
According to the CDC, the United States continues to report the largest number of H1N1 cases of any country, though most people who become ill recover without requiring medical treatment.
Berndt noted another private player in the U.S. arsenal to facilitate response to a flu outbreak. “All across the nation, mini-clinics at pharmacies and other retail outlets offer safe and inexpensive vaccine and other injections,” he said. “Large employers have also learned how to distribute vaccines right in the work place. We’re in much better shape because of such developments.”
While he urges people to be cautious about the risks of the H1N1 virus, he also worries about misinformation leading to public panic. “It is very important that there be responsible reporting so that the public understands that these are communicable diseases,” he said. “It is our responsibility as citizens to make sure we all get the vaccine when it becomes available.”