China defies WHO, hinders U.S. development of bird flu vaccine, report says

Despite requests from U.S. research institutions and government officials, the Chinese government has concealed lab samples of H7N9, a type of bird flu, from the U.S. for more than a year, The New York Times reports. The specimens are necessary for creating vaccines and preparing for future biological threats.

Exchanges of such samples have previously been routine under rules the World Health Organization created.

But as the U.S. feuds with China over trade, scientists are concerned the critical exchange of medical supplies and information could be delayed, blocking the world's preparation for the next biological threat.

"Jeopardizing U.S. access to foreign pathogens and therapies to counter them undermines our nation's ability to protect against infections which can spread globally within days," Michael Callahan, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told the Times.

Experts agree that the next global pandemic will probably come from the flu once again, and the H7N9 virus is a potential candidate.

"Pandemic influenza spreads faster than anything else," said Rick Bright, PhD, the director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an agency within HHS that oversees vaccine development. "There's nothing to hold it back or slow it down. Every minute counts."

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