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US, Europe Consider Vaccinating Workers Exposed To H5N1 Bird Flu Amid Pandemic Fears

Moderna's bird flu vaccine.
Source: Times of India

The United States (US) and Europe are working to obtain or produce H5N1 bird flu vaccines to vaccinate at-risk poultry and dairy workers, veterinarians, and lab technicians, according to government officials. Experts believe these measures could help prevent a pandemic.

Last week, U.S. officials announced they were converting bulk vaccine from CSL Seqirus into finished doses, aiming for 4.8 million doses.

European health officials are also negotiating to acquire CSL’s pre-pandemic vaccine.

Canadian officials have discussed with GSK the possibility of producing a pre-pandemic bird flu vaccine once seasonal flu vaccine production is completed. The UK and other countries are also exploring their options for pre-pandemic vaccines.

These actions follow the spread of a new bird flu strain in late 2020. This strain has killed many wild and domestic birds and started infecting mammals, including humans.

In March, U.S. officials reported the first virus outbreak in dairy cattle, which affected dozens of herds in nine states and infected two dairy workers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has estimated that 20% of the U.S. milk supply shows signs of the virus, suggesting it is spreading more widely.

Exposure to the virus in poultry and dairy operations could increase the risk of mutating and spreading quickly among humans.

“All of our efforts need to be focused on preventing those events from happening,” Reuters quoted Matthew Miller, co-director of the Canadian Pandemic Preparedness Hub at McMaster University. “Once we have widespread infections of humans, we’re in big trouble.”

While the U.S. Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response stated that the government is considering vaccinating farm workers and others in close contact with the virus, the U.K. government did not comment but said it is monitoring the situation in the U.S.

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