Steve Connor: Spin doctors in good health - Science - News - The Independent

Steve Connor: Spin doctors in good health

Science Notebook: It is not clear whether Britain has the capacity to produce enough vaccines

These are difficult times for government ministers, not necessarily because of their expenses claims but because they face a dilemma over a possible decision on whether to switch the production of flu vaccines away from seasonal flu to the new pandemic strain of H1N1 swine flu. Seasonal flu kills thousands of people each winter so a decision to boost the pandemic vaccine at the cost of the seasonal vaccine might actually lead to more deaths than usual.

So it was good to see that the Health Secretary Alan Johnson was on top of his brief when he visited the laboratories of the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) in Potters Bar last week. The NIBSC is run by the Government's Health Protection Agency (HPA) and is responsible for doing the preparatory work on new strains of flu virus prior to the production of a new vaccine.

Mr Johnson announced that the first steps towards producing a European prototype of a swine flu vaccine had been achieved. Scientists at the NIBSC had told him on the morning of his visit that they had sequenced the full genetic code of the virus, according to a press release issued by the Department of Health.

"This is critical in understanding how the virus operates and identifying the crucial parts of the virus that can be used in vaccine manufacture," the press release stated. I was left wondering about the happy coincidence of Mr Johnson's visit happening on the same day that the full viral genetic code had been deciphered.

But then further enquiries revealed that in fact only the virus's partial genetic code had been sequenced. I was also left wondering, if genome sequencing was so critical, how were scientists able to make flu vaccines before the days of being able to fully sequence a virus's DNA? Could it be that the Department of Health's announcement was more to do with making the minister look masterly and decisive, when in fact it is not altogether clear whether Britain has the capacity to produce enough of both seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines.

Out of this world

The mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope is hopefully going to keep this exquisite scientific instrument in fine fettle for another five years or more. In addition to new cameras, batteries and such like, Nasa is also going to fix a grappling hook so that it has the option, in 2014 or beyond, to bring it back to Earth in a shuttle cargo bay, rather than allow it fall unceremoniously into the sea. Don't expect to see it on eBay though.

Heart of the matter

I've been asked about antimatter a lot since the release of Angels and Demons. I can recommend two excellent books; The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, by Graham Farmelo (Faber), and Antimatter, by Frank Close (OUP Oxford).

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week