European countries are beginning to stockpile a newly licensed vaccine which combats the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Permission has been granted to market GlaxoSmithKline's human bird flu vaccine in preparation for a pandemic. The ruling from the European Medicines Agency makes Prepandrix the first vaccine to receive a licence for prepandemic use in all 27-member European Union states.
Emmanuel Hanon, vice president of the Influenza Vaccine Franchise at Glaxo, said Finland and several other European countries, who did not wish to be named, had also placed orders.
Experts believe H5N1, which has killed at least 241 people worldwide, is the most likely candidate to mutate into a pandemic virus.
Since late 2003, the virus has been circulating in Asia, Europe and Africa, and several distinct H5N1 strains have arisen.
Glaxo has said that its vaccine works against these other versions of the virus as well, announcing study results last year showing that that it even reacts against the Indonesian type of H5N1, a genetically different virus.
If a vaccine protects against different H5N1 strains, people could theoretically be prevaccinated before getting a booster shot with a new formulation containing the pandemic strain once the global outbreak strikes.
But if it is another flu subtype that causes the next pandemic, like H7 or H9, which have also caused human bird flu cases, vaccines created using the H5N1 strain will probably be useless.
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