- Published: 23/08/2009 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: News
More than half a million Thais are thought to have contracted H1N1 flu. The death toll last week passed 111. Many others have had two weeks of mostly uncomfortable, painful quarantine. One other thing: This strain of influenza is striking children more than anyone, and hardly hitting the elderly at all. That is the opposite of most varieties of the flu.
IN THE LAB: Eggs are prepared for viral insertion as part of the process for making seed stock for a vaccine against swine flu.
So. Should you get a shot?
That was a trick question. It doesn't matter if you should get vaccinated, because you can't. Yes, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said for weeks there is plenty of vaccine. But he is a politician. Fact: There isn't any vaccine.
There will not be any vaccine for a while. In preparation, the Public Health Ministry set about finding human guinea pigs on which to test the drug. That is a vital, if somewhat routine, part of putting any vaccine on the market.
Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), orders have passed one billion doses of vaccine from governments alone. Fear, prudence or a combination of both are feeding a major demand for medicine that is still in the laboratory stage.
Meanwhile, back in the labs at Silpakorn University and elsewhere, medical experts were testing the old theory that you can't make an influenza preventative without breaking a few eggs. And the eggs were not being at all cooperative.
Board chairman Vichai Chokewiwat of the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) said scientists were getting a very low amount of vaccine-per-egg. Because of the low-yield (read ''weak'') anti-virus vaccine, there was even a chance that the whole project might have to be restarted. The WHO is sending in some advisers this week to help to make a final decision.
By the end of last week, scientists demonstrated why scientists don't run things. A number of them called on the government to gather all available scientists to work on the solution to the egg problem. ''We need to get ideas from experts in various fields to make mass vaccine production work,'' said International Health Policy Programme researcher Jongkol Lertiendumrong.
This is known in non-scientific terms as ''the IBM solution'', where if 10 scientists cannot solve a problem in four weeks, 40 scientists ought to be able to solve it in one more week. It works in kitchens, too, where too many cooks spoil the broth.
But the GPO wouldn't mind fresh injections of vitamin M (money), Mr Vichai said the WHO should send more money to develop a new plant for vaccine, at a university he did not name.