November 16, 2005

Vietnam plans human bird flu vaccine tests

By Ho Binh Minh

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam, where bird flu has killed 42
people, will test a vaccine against the H5N1 virus in humans in
early 2006 as long as it gets government and World Health
Organization approval, a top health official said on Wednesday.

Pham Ngoc Dinh, deputy head of the National Hygiene and
Epidemiology Institute, told Reuters Vietnam had started work
on a human bird flu vaccine in early 2004 and had tested it
successfully on chickens and monkeys.

A research group at his institute was planning human trials
early next year, after submitting results of previous tests to
the government and the WHO, he said.

"We are not sure if the Heath Ministry and the World Health
Organization would allow us to conduct the test," Dinh told
Reuters by telephone.

"We will try to do it," he said. "No scientists can be sure
of the test success but we will have to do it."

The research group is using cell culture technology, which
involves taking a deactivated or weakened form of the virus
from a patient who had died of bird flu. The sample is then
cultivated in monkey kidney cells, a process the group says can
produce the best results within the shortest time.

Wednesday's state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Deputy
Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan as saying the institute was
completing the final stages of research before starting mass
production of a human vaccine. He did not elaborate.

In March, Hoang Thuy Nguyen, head of the vaccine research
group, said tests would be conducted on a small group of
volunteers who could be members of the team.

Dinh said Vietnam was aware of WHO advice which said
countries should not jump to production of a vaccine
specifically against the H5N1 strain because the virus could
mutate, changing in a way that makes the vaccine largely

"Similar to other countries we take this advice but it does
not mean that we would stop now," he said.

The virus remains hard for people to catch and is still
essentially a disease in birds. But experts fear H5N1 could
mutate into a form that passes easily among people, just like
human influenza. If it does, millions could die because they
would have little to no immunity.

Vietnam stepped up the slaughter of poultry in its two
largest cities this week to try to stop the spread of bird flu,
which has now been found in 13 of its 64 provinces in the
latest wave of outbreaks, which started in early October.

Bird flu has killed at least 64 people in Southeast Asia
since late 2003 and has become endemic in several countries.

Thirteen people are known to have died of bird flu in
Thailand, five in Indonesia and four in Cambodia.