June 14. 2024. 1:58

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Finland offers vaccination against bird flu to those working with poultry, or on fur farms

Finland has become the first country in the EU to vaccinate against the H5N1 avian flu, currently spreading among US cattle, announcing that will use the Sequirus vaccine that has been jointly procured at the EU level.

Finland’s chief physician with the Infectious Diseases Control and Vaccines Unit, Hanna Nohynek said the Finnish wanted to start vaccinating already last year, “as a precautionary measure”, but at the time, there was no vaccine available.

The highly pathogenic avian flu was widespread in wild and domestic birds in 2023. In July 2023, the southern and central Ostorbothnia regions of Finland reported an outbreak among farmed foxes, minks, and raccoons. This was only the second known outbreak in fur animal farms since an earlier outbreak in Spain.

Speaking at a World Health Organisation-organised briefing on the latest H5N1 developments, Professor Ian Brown, chair of the ‘OFFLU’ network of expertise on animal influenza, said the virus does not flourish in humans and most human cases have concerned those who have been in very close contact with poultry carrying the virus.

The presence of the virus in mammals raises alarm as it shows that it is adapting and poses a greater threat of mammal-to-mammal transmission. Brown said there would be cause for concern if the virus became endemic in US cattle, where it could become more adept and carry a higher risk of moving to humans.

Finns first

The Finnish Food Authority gave instructions to improve biosecurity measures on farms. In addition, it was agreed with the Finnish National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) that vaccination against H5N1 should be offered to those working with poultry and on fur farms.

“Last year the situation looked very alarming,” said Nohynek. “This year has been more calm, but we know from the US that the virus is still around, so we want to protect those who are working with animals that might be affected.”

The Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), established by the Commission in 2021, identified avian flu as a priority threat and a Commission source told Euractiv the executive supports the development of adequate medical countermeasures, including vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics for human use.

This is the first time the vaccine will be deployed.

Wider criticism of U.S. response

An editorial published in The Lancet, ‘ H5N1: international failures and uncomfortable truths’, has raised concern over what it describes as “collective complacency”.

The editorial has been particularly critical of the US Department of Agriculture’s response to the H5N1 outbreak in cattle, which has been described as being too slow in sharing virus sequence data, “action to curb this outbreak is needed urgently, including improving testing, surveillance, and reporting of infected animals populations.”

The Lancet editorial also called for developing and stockpiling human vaccines, as well as promoting protective measures.

Read more with Euractiv

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