BEIJING, Feb. 11 (Xinhuanet) -- China’s health authorities on Monday confirmed earlier reports of a breakthrough that could lead to the development of a vaccine against the H7N9 bird flu. CCTV reporter Han Peng was at a press conference when the development was inadvertently announced.
It was supposed to be a regular press conference of focusing on China’s medical reforms. But the story changed when journalists asked for an update on the bird flu, and health officials announced that scientists had made a technical breakthrough.
"Chinese scientists have successfully developed H7N9 bird flu vaccine seed strains. It has passed all the safety tests of relevant government departments. We will go on to carry out its clinical test, and will approve its introduction to the market according to the result of the tests and the severity of the epidemic." said Yao Hongwen, Spokesperson, National Health & Family Planning Commission.
It sounds impressive but experts say it will still take at least six years to finish all the clinical tests.
On the press conference, some medical experts urge the authorities to accelerate the approval of the vaccines’ clinical test. But they also say that a more important and more urgent job China should do is to fundamentally change our ways of raising and selling poultry, so as to prevent similar outbreaks once and for all.
Although work in the laboratory could, someday, spell the end of the bird flu, scientists say today’s best defense is a good offence in the handling of live poultry. They say all of the victims of the bird flu handled chickens that were raised on small farms and sold live at local markets.
"The number of new cases will continue to rise if we do not start upgrading our production and sales of poultry. There have been no reported infections among staff at high-tech poultry processing plants. It will be a long and costly process to change, but if we don’t more people will suffer." said Shu Yuelong, Deputy Director, Viral Disease Control & Prevention Institute, CDC.
Chinese tradition holds that the freshest and best tasting poultry must be slaughtered just before cooking. Health officials say better refrigeration of butchered meat is the only way to change habits and help protect people from the bird flu.