Aussies trial promising bird flu vaccine

An Australian vaccine against the deadly bird flu has shown such good results in preliminary trials that researchers are about to test it on volunteers.

Researchers in Perth are currently recruiting 150 adult volunteers to take part in a study to test the effectiveness of the new vaccine, developed from a strain taken from a Vietnamese bird flu victim.

The Vaccine Trials Group at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Princess Margaret Hospital for Children is recruiting 150 adult volunteers to test the vaccine.

Study leader, Dr. Peter Richmond, says while there has not to date been any case of bird flu being spread from human to human, it is important not to become complacent and to endeavour to find ways to protect communities from a possible pandemic.

Dr. Richmond says they are aiming to have a vaccine available that is proven to be both safe and effective.

He says the vaccine has already been shown to be safe in initial trials and had few side-effects.

As there is no live virus in the vaccine there is no chance of catching the infection from the vaccination.

He says he hopes the study will establish how much of the vaccine is needed to provide good protection against bird flu.

It seems in the initial trial a small dose of the vaccine generated a good immune response in about half of the participants.

The next trial will use an increased dosage to see if that promotes good immunity in a larger proportion of participants.

It appears even with the increase, the total amount of vaccine is still the same as is found in conventional flu vaccines.

Should the vaccine be found to be safe and effective, stocks would then be manufactured to have on hand to protect against a possible bird flu pandemic.

Study volunteers will receive two doses of the vaccine, three weeks apart and will then have blood tests over the following year to check their immunity.

The vaccine is the only one of its type being developed in the southern hemisphere and could prove a powerful weapon in the fight against bird flu, which has so far killed nearly 100 people in Asia and the Middle East.

Most of these were exposed to the virus through infected poultry, but scientists are concerned about a possible pandemic if the virus mutates so it can easily transmit between humans.

The Australian Government has funded the research and the development of the vaccine by the Australian pharmaceutical company CSL.

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