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Work Together for SARS Vaccine: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for more collaboration between institutes in the search for a safe and effective vaccine for SARS, a goal which it is estimated may take one to two years to achieve.

Competition is a good motivator in some areas, but the WHO's position is that collaboration, not competition, is the best way to ensure that the world will have a safe and effective SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) vaccine in the shortest time possible, Dr Julie Hall, the SARS team leader in the agency's Beijing office, said in an exclusive interview with China Daily.


There are several vaccines in development in China and similar work is going on in many other places around the world. "We know that at least two vaccines have been sent to the State Food and Drug Administration for authorization to be tested,'' Hall noted.


China is ready to begin human trials with an experimental SARS vaccine, and is looking for volunteers for the trials, which are scheduled to begin next month, the State Food and Drug Administration announced on Sunday.


It is good news that advances are being made in the development of a SARS vaccine. China's announcement apparently puts it ahead of what laboratories in other countries are announcing to the public, she said.


Researchers around the world have been racing to come up with a vaccine for SARS, which killed 774 people and infected more than 8,000 before subsiding in July this year. In China where it first emerged, 349 people died.


There are many laboratories and researchers around the world working to find a SARS vaccine. Many are collaborating with each other, but many are competing and not sharing information, Hall added.


She said the WHO's position is that the best way to find a vaccine is for everyone to share their information and research results.


Unfortunately, not everyone -- here in China, or around the world -- is doing that.


'We are afraid that in the race to find a vaccine, people will take unnecessary risks or even falsify data. We have seen it happen with other diseases,'' she said.


There are many testing hurdles to get past in developing a vaccine, and it could fail at any stage. Researchers will have to determine what a safe dosage is, and how effective the vaccine is, and how long it will remain effective.


It could be disastrous to give people a false sense of security and make them think that because they have been vaccinated that they are absolutely safe against SARS, the top expert noted.


She also said that having a vaccine is only one element in the fight to bring SARS under control.


"We still need the fundamentals like good disease reporting and surveillance systems, knowledge of the virus sources, better treatment procedures, and we need to make sure that specimens of the SARS virus do not escape the laboratories where researchers are using them to develop the vaccine,'' Hall said.


China has responded well to the WHO's recommendations of lab safety, but there is still a long way to go before all of its laboratories meet international standards, she noted.


(China Daily November 27, 2003)

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