However, it remains more likely than not that a vaccine for a new pandemic would not be available until 4-6 months or more after the pandemic was identified, likely too late to have much effect. This happened for the 2009 swine flu pandemic. The swine flu vaccine was probably only needed for small numbers of people who were at particularly high risk of severe sequelae from the virus. The European Parliament now suggests that the death rate in Europe from swine flu was only 1/10th as high as from an average seasonal flu. This is because those over 50 were, in large part, already immune.
From the BBC:
Governments should launch a vaccination programme now to guard against a possible H2N2 flu pandemic, according to an article in the journal Nature.
The US authors say immunity to the H2N2 flu strain is very low in people under the age of 50. But a safe vaccine already exists after an H2N2 outbreak in the 1950s and '60s. They say that vaccinating now could save billions of dollars if a pandemic does develop.
Dr Gary Nabel and colleagues from the Vaccine Research Centre in the US say H2N2 has the ability to cause a pandemic in the same way that H1N1 did in 2009.
Between 1957 and 1968, the strain is thought to have caused up to 4 million deaths in a global outbreak, during which time a vaccine was developed.
When the pandemic was over the H2N2 vaccination programme was stopped in the late 1960s, although the virus is still present today among birds and swine...
"Another major influenza pandemic is likely to cost far more and create a much greater health burden than a well-planned pre-emptive programme.
"The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a pandemic outbreak costs the United States between $71 billion and $167 billion." Dr Wendy Barclay, Chair in Influenza Virology at Imperial College, says the H2 flu virus does pose a credible pandemic threat, as do other strains of bird flu. But she believes there are some big questions about whether a pre-emptive vaccination programme would be welcomed by the public.
"Now we are in the calm after the storm of that swine flu pandemic, it is timely to open up the debate about pre-pandemic vaccines. As Dr Nabel himself points out in his article, we have to ask whether the public will want or accept a vaccine against a disease that does not at the moment exist.
"Work towards making such vaccines available is ongoing in many laboratories around the world. "Scientifically we are in a position to be able to offer a good solution, the issues to be decided are of cost and of public attitude."