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).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor