At the beginning of the year, scientists will begin testing whether they can stretch the nation's limited supply of bird-flu vaccine.
They're hoping to do this by pairing an experimental bird-flu vaccine with an immune-system booster.
The National Institutes of Health's infectious disease chief tells a Senate panel that early research with a different vaccine suggests that approach may work. Doctor Anthony Fauci says preliminary testing in 96 people showed that adding the immune-boosting chemical dramatically lowered the required vaccine dose.
Meanwhile, China reported two new outbreaks of bird flu among chickens in its northeastern province of Liaoning, bringing the total number of reported outbreaks in the past month to six.
A major barrier to stockpiling bird flu vaccine is that it requires two huge doses of the vaccine to produce a protective immune response.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also said lawmakers should pass legislation by Nov. 24 to fund U.S. preparations for a possible worldwide outbreak of bird flu or some other super-influenza strain.
That timetable has important implications: President Bush has proposed stockpiling enough of the anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza for 81 million people. The nation has only enough doses for 4.3 million people in stock, and can't order more until Congress approves the money for it, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We need it now," she told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In related developments:
But a major barrier is that it requires two huge doses of the H5N1 vaccine to produce a protective immune response.
Chiron recently paired an experimental vaccine against another bird-flu strain, H9N2, with an immune-boosting chemical called an adjuvant. Preliminary testing, funded by NIH, in 96 people showed that adding the adjuvant dramatically lowered the required vaccine dose, results that Fauci called encouraging.
The next step is to test whether adding the adjuvant to the H5N1 vaccine will lower its required dose, he said.
Also Wednesday, a World Health Organization session agreed that bird flu had to be controlled through culling and vaccination, and that countries needed to strengthen their surveillance systems to quickly detect and contain any animal or human influenza outbreaks. Countries should set up and test their own national preparedness plans and improve regional cooperation.
"The minute there are more regions or countries with animal outbreaks or human-to-human transmission, the funding needs will increase hugely," said World Bank Vice President James Adams. He said the meeting provided a good basis for a donors' conference planned for Beijing in mid-January.
On the closing day of the three-day meeting, the bank said 90 percent of that money should be allocated directly to countries, with the other 10 percent going to international or regional agencies.
"Let me stress that these are indicative figures; if tomorrow one of these countries (at risk) or a new country is affected, these figures will change," Fadia Saadah of the World Bank said. She added that in the event that the bird flu virus started to mutate and transmit from human to human, "all of these figures will be multiplied by several orders of magnitude."
Saadah said the costs were based on initial, rough estimates to help the world move ahead as fast as possible in the fight against the disease.
The figure covers the needs of countries already affected by the bird flu outbreak and those at high risk for the disease, as well as the cost of drawing up pandemic flu plans in countries that don't yet have one.
The bank said a process to appraise regional proposals should be developed by January.