EU secures 40mn doses of bird flu vaccine as cases rise

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The European Commission has signed a deal for more than 40mn doses of a vaccine against bird flu for 15 countries across the continent, as member states grapple with a rise in cases of the respiratory virus.

The EU’s executive arm announced the contract on Tuesday, procuring up to 665,000 vaccine doses — which can be adapted to any bird flu strain — from Australia-based manufacturer CSL Seqirus. The deal includes a provision for a further 40mn vaccines over the next four years.

The deal comes as governments monitor an increase in bird flu cases in animals after 10 US states reported outbreaks in cattle in recent months, with three cases in humans following exposure to dairy cows.

Last week, the World Health Organization reported that a farmworker in Mexico had died after contracting the H5N2 variant, a strain that had previously not been detected in humans but has been reported in Mexican poultry. There have been no recorded cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus.

The outbreaks have increased concerns over the safety of dairy and meat products. Strains of the virus have been detected in US milk, although pasteurisation kills the pathogen. The tissue of one dairy cow was also reported to be infected but meat from the animal did not enter food supply chains, the US agriculture department said last month.

Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, said: “While the threat of avian influenza to the general population remains low, we need to protect people at higher risk, such as poultry and farm workers or certain veterinarians.”

Monitoring by the EU reference laboratory for avian influenza shows there have been 522 outbreaks of bird flu detected in wild and captive birds in 27 countries since the start of the year.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the risk of transmission from animals to humans is considered low in Europe. A commission spokesperson said on Tuesday there were “no reported active cases” in EU citizens.

The doses will go to people most exposed to the virus, including farm workers and veterinarians, with the first shipment heading to Finland. Outbreaks of bird flu in the Nordic country’s mink farms last year raised concerns of transmission to humans.

“This agreement will help in Europe’s resolve to maintain robust preparedness and rapid response capabilities for this potential threat,” said Raja Rajaram, head of global medical strategy at CSL Seqirus.

The jabs are being made in CSL Seqirus factories in the Netherlands and England using egg-based manufacturing, a traditional method for developing vaccines.

The US has a stockpile of flu vaccines from GSK, Sanofi and CSL Seqirus that can provide immunity against bird flu. It is considering funding a late-stage trial of Moderna’s mRNA-based avian flu vaccine, which could be scaled up more quickly.

UK drugmaker GSK and German biotech CureVac are also jointly developing an mRNA-based avian flu vaccine in early trials.

The European Commission did not immediately respond when asked if it was pursuing a similar deal.

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