Finland to launch world’s first bird flu vaccination for high-risk workers

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Finland plans to offer preemptive bird flu vaccination as soon as next week to some workers with exposure to animals, health authorities said on Tuesday, making it the first country in the world to do so.

The Nordic country has bought vaccines for 10,000 people, each consisting of two injections, as part of a joint EU procurement of up to 40 million doses for 15 nations from manufacturer CSL Seqirus.

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The European Commission said Finland would be the first country to roll out the vaccine.

“The vaccine will be offered to those aged 18 or over who are at increased risk of contracting avian influenza due to their work or other circumstances,” the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said in a statement.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed or caused the culling of hundreds of millions of poultry globally in recent years and has increasingly been spreading to mammals, including cows in the United States and, in some cases, also to humans.

Finland has not detected the virus in humans, THL said.

However, the country is eager to roll out vaccinations given transmission risks posed by its fur farms.

“The conditions in Finland are very different in that we have fur farms where the animals can end up in contact with wildlife,” Chief Physician Hanna Nohynek at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) told Reuters.

Widespread outbreaks of bird flu among mink and foxes at Finland’s mostly open-air fur farms led to the culling last year of some 485,000 animals to stop the virus from spreading among the animals as well as to humans.

Vaccinations are likely to start as early as next week in at least some parts of Finland, a THL spokesperson told Reuters.

Finland said it procured vaccines for people it deems to be at risk, such as workers at fur and poultry farms, lab technicians who handle bird flu samples and veterinarians who work as animal control officers in regions where fur farms are located.

People working in sanctuaries caring for wild birds, in livestock farms or in the cleaning of premises, such as animal by-products processing plants, will also be offered vaccines, THL said.

If human infection of avian influenza were to occur, close contacts of a suspected or confirmed case would also be offered the vaccine, it added.

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