Vietnam to test bird flu vaccine on humans


Vietnam, one of the countries hardest-hit by bird flu, will start a human vaccine trial this month, a military medical official said on Tuesday.

The official did not give a specific date but said the Health Ministry had approved testing that would last eight months at the Military Medical Academy in Ha Tay province near Hanoi.

“We are going to conduct the tests at the academy, with people joining on a voluntary basis, including students and employees,” said the official, who asked not to be identified in the media.

The academy had been licensed by the Ministry of Health to conduct the trial but it still required permission from the Ministry of Defense, the official said.

A company run by the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology said in a statement on its Web site ( that it would produce six million doses per year for application on both humans and poultry should the tests be successful.

Five people have died of bird flu in Vietnam so far this year out of six reported H5N1 infections. The World Health Organization has recorded 51 deaths in Vietnam since late 2003 out of 235 people killed among 372 known cases globally.

WHO in Vietnam said it was not directly involved in the Communist-run Southeast Asian country's development of a human vaccine for the H5N1 virus.

“Our understanding is that this would be for local issue only and that the Ministry of Health has rigorous guidelines for quality control,” said Dida Connor, WHO spokeswoman in Hanoi.

The Company for Vaccine and Biological Production No.1, known as Vabiotech, said in its statement that the vaccine used for poultry would be 1.5 microgram per dose, or one tenth the dose for humans. 

On March 2, GlaxoSmithKline company said a vaccine it designed to protect people against H5N1 may be effective in warding off a few different sub-types of the virus.

In an Asian clinical trial involving 1,206 adults in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand, the vaccine produced antibodies that not only neutralized the H5N1 virus found in Vietnam, but also the variant now dogging Indonesia.

A vaccine designed using a current H5N1 strain might not offer protection against other strains and might even be useless against any eventual pandemic strain because viruses mutate all the time.

Still, experts say the process of making vaccines will lay down the necessary infrastructure so that the time used to make an eventual pandemic vaccine - anywhere between 4 to 6 months after a pandemic begins - can be shortened. (Reuters)

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