France in EU avian flu vaccine first

France has launched a tender for 80 million doses of bird flu vaccines in order to be ready to start its vaccination programme in the autumn.

It is the first member of the European Union to start such a scheme.

France, which was the worst affected European Union country last year, when it culled more than 20 million birds said in December it aimed to start vaccinations this autumn.

The pre-order, to be confirmed if final test results are positive, is to vaccinate ducks only, a spokesperson at the French agriculture ministry said.

Ducks are considered to be receptive to the virus and remain asymptomatic for many days, increasing the risk of transmission.

France has mandated two companies, France’s Ceva Animal Health and Germany’s Boehringher Ingelheim to develop bird flu vaccines for ducks. 

Ceva said initial results were “very promising”, notably by sharply reducing the excretion of the virus by infected birds.

Ducks are very receptive to the virus and remain asymptomatic for many days, increasing the risk of transmission.

France has mandated two companies, France’s Ceva Animal Health and Germany’s Boehringher Ingelheim to develop bird flu vaccines for ducks. Ceva said initial results were “very promising”, notably by sharply reducing the excretion of the virus by infected birds.

The announcement came after French health and safety agency ANSES endorsed the government’s plan to vaccinate millions of poultry birds against bird flu.

Avian influenza has killed hundreds millions of birds around the world but governments have, to date, been somewhat reluctant  to roll out vaccination programmes.

Earlier this year the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was reviewing its risk assessment of the avian flu virus following its continuing spread and transmission to humans.

The WHO also said that is working with Cambodian authorities after two confirmed human cases of H5N1 bird flu were found among one family in the country.

Dr Sylvie Briand, WHO director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said at the time that the current situation is “worrying” due to the recent rise in cases in birds and mammals.

“The global H5N1 situation is worrying given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world and the increasing reports of cases in mammals including humans,” Briand said. “WHO takes the risk from this virus seriously and urges heightened vigilance from all countries.”

The WHO’s decision comes as UK health officials have started preparing for a possible avian pandemic, with the Health Security Agency (UKHSA) creating a group of 26 experts to model a potential outbreak of H5N1 if the virus were to evolve to spread between humans.

The UKHSA group includes Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling was an important component in the nation’s first national COVID- 19 lockdown, as well as UKHSA chief medical officer Dr Susan Hopkins. Policies understood to be examined by the group include the introduction of lateral flow tests for the disease.

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