Image copyright STEVE BRODHEAD
“In 2005, it was used on 7.7 million animals.”
The statistic contained in a letter to colleagues by PETRES Petrovcic is the best anyone will say for now about the effectiveness of a man-made vaccine against the common virus known as bird flu, or avian flu.
The number of people who need to be protected against the virus is daunting.
It has already infected 90 million birds – and 50 million animals, which are now off the table.
There’s no vaccine against it.
But the problem is that there are huge gaps in our vaccine armoury – as PETRES Petrovcic – which has been working on this vaccine for years – highlights.
Video caption Flu vaccines: A short guide
According to the bottom line produced in a recent report, the gap in our vaccine arsenal is in the “mid-digit thousands”.
And if we get hit by a major flu pandemic, which scientists have warned could happen, we’re not there yet.
But PETRES Petrovcic hopes his vaccine for people will help patch those gaps.
He believes it will mean we can respond to bird flu far quicker than we have in the past.
“My challenge is to not sit on my hands and let a bird flu outbreak happen,” he says.
“We need to have a vaccine for public health – for child protection.
Image copyright BBC BIRD FLU CASES 2019 Image caption Bird flu affected Europe and Asia earlier this year
“I’m going to do everything I can to get this project off the ground as soon as possible.”
PETRES Petrovcic works with the biotech firm Cellectis.
Its biggest current project is called is using CRISPR, the gene editing system, to create a brand new type of vaccine.
This technology doesn’t work for flu right now.
But what if it could?
The head of vaccines for the World Health Organisation, Dr Keiji Fukuda, is curious about the prospects of such an option.
“One reason people might like this idea of all of these genetic functions – sometimes they might not even realise this – is that in terms of number of virals out there, it’s far from zero,” he says.
“It’s a particular weakness in terms of vaccine supply and where it stands, we really don’t know enough about its potential to respond to the unique challenge of flu.”