Indonesia is refusing to hand over its flu viruses to Western researchers, and that means flu vaccines this year may be less effective. Flu shots are basically created on a gamble that that popular Asian virus strains will come West by winter flu season. Epidemiologists study Asian viruses, predict which strains will come West, and make shots that immunize against them. But Indonesians are getting pissed off about a lousy tradeoff where they hand over virus samples from flu that killed a bunch of their people, and then get nothing in return. That's why Indonesia and other developing nations have stopped letting researchers take flu samples unless vaccine manufacturers meet their demands.
According to a report by Laurie Garrett and David Fidler in PLoS Medicine, Indonesia is demanding greater access to vaccines derived from samples it has shared with researchers from the World Health Organization. Garrett and Fidler say many developing countries are now asking:
What's in it for us? We share virus samples, and pharmaceutical companies make vaccines from them that primarily benefit rich countries. Without better access to vaccine, why should we share virus samples?
The authors suggest the solution is to stockpile 500 million constantly-updated vaccines in Hong Kong, which can be allocated to developing nations and prevent a global pandemic.
Sharing H5N viruses to stop a global influenza pandemic [PLoS Medicine]