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November 18, 2005

Vietnam plans human bird-flu vaccine trials

Amid concerns that the bird flu virus is mutating and experts’ warnings that developing a specific H5N1 vaccine would be futile in such a case, Vietnamese health officials are planning to start testing a potential human vaccine against the H5N1 bird flu virus in early 2006. The vaccine, developed in 2004, has been tested successfully on chickens and monkeys. Human trials would begin as soon as the World Health Organization and the Vietnamese government approve the tests.

The vaccine has been developed by Hanoi-based researchers using cell culture technique. A sample of a weakened form of the virus was taken from a patient who had died of the disease and then grown in monkey kidney cells, a process the group claims can produce the best results within the shortest time.

Besides the human bird flu vaccine, Vietnam has also disclosed plans to produce poultry vaccine to stem the rapid spread of the disease among its estimated 220 million birds. An official from Vietnam’s Institute of Biotechnology said that the agriculture ministry had given permission to two enterprises, one close to Hanoi and another in the southern business hub, Ho Chi Minh City, to produce the vaccine.

Meanwhile, an FDA advisory panel is reviewing a proposal by pharmaceutical companies to base production of bird flu vaccines on cell cultures in a laboratory rather than chicken eggs. Although the new method is quicker, the FDA is cautious about giving it its go-ahead as vaccines grown from the cell line carry the risk of creating tumors.

In the latest update on bird flu, WHO has confirmed two more human bird flu deaths in Indonesia. Four other Indonesians have been confirmed as infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu but are still alive. On Wednesday, China reported its first three confirmed human cases of bird flu—two of them fatalities— as the government raced to vaccinate billions of chickens, ducks and other poultry in a massive effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Posted by dymaxion at November 18, 2005 01:30 PM

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