Brits stockpiling bird flu vaccine

A stockpile of 2 million doses of vaccine to fight the H5N1 strain of Asian bird flu will be accumulated by the British government.

According to health minister Patricia Hewitt the vaccine will be used to protect key healthcare and emergency workers against a possible global flu pandemic.

Hewitt says a strategic stockpile of H5N1 vaccine could be used as a first line of defence, whilst a vaccine against the exact strain of pandemic flu was being manufactured.

Drug manufacturers are being invited to tender for contracts.

Similar plans to purchase limited quantities of H5N1 vaccine are being considered by the governments of the United States, France, Canada and Australia.

Bird flu, which appeared in Asia in late 2003, has so far killed 56 people in Vietnam,Thailand and Cambodia with Indonesia confirming its first three deaths from the virus on Wednesday.

There is great concern amongst public health experts that the avian flu virus is mutating and could develop the ability to spread easily from person to person, potentially killing millions in a flu pandemic.

Governments around the world, are also buying up stocks of Roche's drug Tamiflu to treat people exposed to the virus.

According to the Swiss drug company more than 25 governments have already placed orders for Tamiflu in preparation for a potential outbreak of bird flu in humans.

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