"the best post on the subject [of the Stockwell shooting] so far and I agree. A must read." - Tim Worstall, August 21, 2005

"Chris at Optimus In Omnis wrote a thoughtful post in July...his more recent post describes the edginess many Londoners feel" - BBC News Online, August 22, 2005

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Less than 2% of nation immune from impending bird flu

The vaccine for H5N1 avian influenza is in such short supply that less than two percent of the population will be immunised for less than seven days, and no further delivery of a preventative, rather than complete immunisation, drug, named Tamiflu is expected until well into 2007. The vast majority of those two percent will consist of high-ranking Government officials, medical staff and undertakers: a rather macabre sign of what to expect from this most unknown of virii, which, if the survival plan for the select few of importance to the nation is to believed, will waylay men, women and children in their thousands. It is no coincidence that undertakers are included in the plan of those to be saved - with the possibility of deaths totalling in the hundreds of thousands, people will be needed to bury our dead - but are these preparations overcompensation of a mediocre danger just one step away from outright scaremongering?

Sadly it seems like neither. This is a very real problem, and we as a nation; we as a continent and now, with the advent of a jet set world, we as a planet, are on the brink of a global pandemic. In 1918 a strain of flu virus wreaked havoc the world over, killing upwards of fifty million people worldwide in the space of a year and a half. That was before the age of mass transportation to far-fetched corners of the globe; before budget airlines and before the greatest movement of population in the civilised history of the Earth. If such a great number could be killed in the era of comparatively restrained transport, how many hundreds of thousands, or even millions, could be killed today?

One can take solace in the fact that the H5 strain of influenza is believed to have the most difficulty transporting itself into humans, and mutating to become a human transmitted illness. However, with the recent news that this particular strain of bird flu has been officially found in pigs, our nearest relatives on the agricultural food chain, and the possibility of three cases in Thailand of human transmission, it seems eminently possible that our last saving grace has been quashed.

For those 900,000 people assured of getting an immunisation jab, it is not even definitive that they will not stand a chance of catching the disease. One of the reasons that the common cold still plagues the lives of millions every year is that, like all forms of influenza, it is a virus, and not a bacterium-based illness. Virii can not be treated effectively by active or passive immunisation, and the fact that they so willingly mutate into more deadly, medicine-resistant strains makes the chance of escaping the reaches of the virus yet smaller. The stockpile which the Government has is woefully small, and the stockpile which they are building is still not enough to immunise even half of the British population. Just over fourteen and a half million jabs have been ordered, at an expense of £100 million, and when they arrive in March 2007, it will be either too little, or too late.

According to experts, if bird flu is transmitted to humans, somewhere between five and ten percent of the population will die. One must ask why, exactly, when the most abhorrent disease in nearly 100 years is just weeks - or days - away from landing on our shores, we have not followed the lead of the Dutch authorities, and isolated our fowl to try and create a stopgap in the hope of avoiding deaths reaching up into the thousands, or indeed, millions.

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