H1N1 Vaccine - Tested in Animals First

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H1N1 Vaccine - Tested in Animals First

By Sharon Seltzer on Care2.com
October 2009

Do the results really translate into good medicine for humans?

However the requirement to test drugs on animals has a huge caveat. The amount of testing can be decreased if there is an urgent need for the medication. And with the World Health Organization declaring H1N1 a pandemic in June 2009, Novavax developed the new swine flu vaccine in a record time of only four weeks.

With blessings from the FDA and the CDC, distribution of the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine has begun. But before it was shipped to cities across the U.S. it first had to be tested on live animals.

Did you know that all pharmaceuticals for “therapeutic purposes” are legally required to run through a series of experimental studies on animals before they can be approved and offered to the public?

This came about after the drug Thalidomide was released in the 1960’s. Researchers later found that the medication caused extreme birth defects that affected an entire generation.


"Apparently ferrets are the “closest animal to humans when it comes to being infected with influenza."

However the requirement to test drugs on animals has a huge caveat. The amount of testing can be decreased if there is an urgent need for the medication. And with the World Health Organization declaring H1N1 a pandemic in June 2009, Novavax developed the new swine flu vaccine in a record time of only four weeks.

ANIMAL TESTING

As required by law the new vaccine was tested on live animals. Novavax used a group of ferrets for their trial series. Apparently ferrets are the “closest animal to humans when it comes to being infected with influenza.”

“The ferrets received a 3.75, 7.5, or 15 microgram dose of the 2009 H1N1 virus-like particle vaccine or a placebo and were boosted with a second dose after three weeks,” the company said in a press release.

Researchers infected the ferrets with a virus taken from a patient who was confirmed to have the swine flu. Then three weeks later, the ferrets that received the vaccination were exposed again to the H1N1 virus from a female patient with “severe respiratory disease.”

“By day five after challenge, immunized ferrets at all vaccine dose levels had cleared the H1N1 virus and showed no sign of disease,” said a Novavax representative.

“Demonstrating that our influenza VLP vaccine candidate protects against the pandemic H1N1 virus in an animal model is another milestone for us to have met,” said Dr. Gale Smith VP of Vaccine Development.

The infected ferrets that did not receive the vaccine all showed signs of the flu with “lethargy, elevated body temperatures and shed infectious virus for up to six days.” However all of the ferrets survived the experiment.

IS IT WORTH THE PAIN AND SUFFERING?

Even though all of the ferrets survived the swine flu vaccine, thousands of other animals in laboratories are tortured every day in the name of medical research. Organizations like PETA and In Defense of Animals both agree that most tests done on animals is unnecessary and outdated. Both groups promote more modern methods to study new drugs that are effective and don’t require the use of animals.

But there is another question to ask in regards to the suffering we put animals through in trial testing. Do the results really translate into good medicine for humans? If you ask the people who received the vaccine for the swine flu outbreak in 1976, the answer would be a resounding – NO.

THE LAST SWINE FLU EPIDEMIC

In 1976 after 200 soldiers at Fort Dix came down with flu-like symptoms the CDC and the country began to fear a pandemic of the swine flu was about to hit. The CDC identified the virus as being similar to the 1918 flu that killed thousands. The new 2009 H1N1 virus is also being compared to the 1918 swine flu.

The CDC called for a massive public vaccination program and pharmaceutical companies went to work. They were able to develop a vaccine quickly and experimental trials were performed on animals. But the results were disastrous when the vaccine was delivered to the American public.

Some people became sick with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease that makes the immune-system attack itself. “GBS is relatively rare in the general population but 10 times more prevalent among those who received the swine flu vaccine – particularly those whose immune systems may have already been compromised”, stated Medpage Today.

Ultimately the inoculation program was called off due to the risk and because the swine flu pandemic never materialized. The program was a key example of how experimental tests on animals doesn’t always translate to good medicine for humans.

CALL TO ACTION

In Defense of Animals is one organization that would like to stop mandatory medical testing on animals. Here is what they have to say on the subject:

Most people believe that experiments on animals are necessary for medicine and science to progress. However, this is not the case. The belief that we must experiment on animals is being challenged by a growing number of physicians and scientists who are utilizing many research methods that do not harm or kill animals. More and more physicians and scientists are also seeing the negative consequences of using one species to provide information about another species; often the results of animal experiments are misleading or even harmful to humans.