Lacking a new vaccine, Vietnam highly susceptible to bird flu pandemic

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Vietnam's agriculture minister called an urgent meeting Sunday demanding local authorities adopt better measures for bird flu prevention, given that the virus has mutated and become more lethal.

Cao Duc Phat, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and head of the National Steering Committee of Bird Flu Prevention, said at the meeting that the condition is spreading widely and preventative policies are more important than ever.

The disease has recurred this year in the northern city of Hai Phong and ten provinces nationwide, with more than 34,300 fowl have either died or been culled.

Hoang Van Nam, the interim director of the Animal Health Department, said the bird flu virus has undergone unexpected changes since the epidemic first struck in late 2003.

Since 2007, Nam said, bird flu has developed new strains that are more dangerous and spread faster.

He said the increased danger is illustrated by the human mortality rate of 100 percent in the two cases so far this year, almost double the death rate among 121 infected persons between 2003-2011.

Nam said the biggest challenge to prevention efforts has been the lack of a vaccine capable of handling the new strain. The vaccine which has been used, H5N1-Re 5, has proved ineffective against the new strains.

He said experts in China, where the new strains have also appeared among fowl, have successfully developed an effective vaccine (H5N1-Re 6), but the Chinese government has yet to allow it to be used or produced extensively.


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"Without a suitable vaccine, a recurring epidemic is totally possible anywhere," Nam said.

As the development of the disease will continue to be unpredictable, Phat said, adding that local authorities would have do their best with what they have and should provide enough H5N1-Re 5 vaccinations, despite their apparent ineffectiveness.

Earlier, he proposed that the Prime Minister urgently approve the purchase of 100 million H5N1-Re 5 vaccinations from China.

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