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Bird Flu Vaccine Trials To Start

The vaccine centre of the University of Tampere is seeking 200 volunteers to take part in trials of a vaccine for humans against the H5N1 bird flu virus.

The vaccine to be tested is a "model" vaccine which the National Public Health Institute signed an agreement on purchasing for the entire population from the Dutch company Solvay Pharmaceuticals.

According to Professor Timo Vesikari of the University of Tampere, the volunteers are needed for a project aimed at developing the most effective version of the vaccine.

About 300 people have been infected by the H5N1 passed by birds. Some 200 of those infected have died.

A vaccine effective against the virus is not yet ready. The planned trials will examine variations in the model vaccine which has already been developed.

Traditionally, Finland has been regarded as a good test bed for pharmaceutical modelling, as volunteers are often easy for researchers to find. The Tampere vaccine centre is seeking 200 volunteers in Helsinki and Turku. They will be given two inoculations, blood samples will be taken and they will be observed for any ill effects. The vaccine, according to Professor Vesikari is harmless and does not contain living avian flu viruses.

Trials of the same vaccine will also be carried out in Germany. Another vaccine being developed by Novartis Pharmaceuticals is also being studied in Tampere.

Finland has already ordered 20.8m euros worth of the vaccine from Solvay Pharmaceuticals. Although it is not yet known how effective it is, the National Public Health Institute hopes that it would provide at least some protection against a potential H5N1-type pandemic in which the virus would be passed from person to person.

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