Standard misled readers on bird flu vaccine, says prof

By Dominic Ponsford

The Evening Standard has been accused of causing “serious damage to public health preparation” for the feared bird flu pandemic.

The charge was levelled by leading scientist Professor Peter
Dunhill, who was interviewed by Standard science correspondent Mark
Prigg last week for a story headlined “Bird flu vaccine ready in days”.

The
story contained details of a DNAbased vaccine that Prof. Dunhill is
working on. The Standard said that enough of the new vaccine could be
manufactured in days to protect the whole UK population from bird flu.

Prof.
Dunhill denied that he said a DNA vaccine could be ready in days and
said the story gave a misleading impression of the vaccine’s possible
risks.

The story also included quotes from spokesmen for the
National Institute of Biological Sciences and the Department of Health,
and Clive Dix, head of drugs company PowderMed.

Prof. Dunhill
said: “On Friday, 21 October the Evening Standard’s science and
technology correspondent, Mark Prigg, wrote an article, ‘Bird flu
vaccine ready in days’ in which he discussed the possibility of
producing a DNA vaccine against bird flu based, in part, on a detailed
telephone conversation with me.

“The article bore little resemblance to what I said and may have done serious damage to public health preparation.

Prof.
Dunhill claims he made it clear that DNA vaccines were a fallback for a
worst-case scenario, and should in no way should replace efforts with
public health measures, Tamiflu and conventional virus-based vaccines.
“I specifically did not say ‘We believe that the benefits of a vaccine
in large enough quantities to treat the entire global population far
outweigh the risk’.

“Although I indicated that when a DNA vaccine
production cycle is operational, each cycle would be completed in
approximately three weeks, I also explained that many actions would be
needed before this was possible.

Therefore, the headline ‘Bird flu vaccineready in days’ is misleading.

He
added: “At a time when responsible journalism is at a premium with
regards to a potential pandemic, the Evening Standard has failed to
meet even the most minimal scientific standards.”

Evening
Standard managing director Doug Wills said: “Our story was based on
conversations with a number of experts. While describing the vaccine as
a breakthrough, it also included comments which said that the vaccine
was ‘in the early stages’. We believe our story to have been accurate
and balanced.”

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