Vietnam will use over 400 million batches of vaccine to inoculate its chickens and ducks against the deadly bird flu that has killed 40 people in the country, half of them since December.
Agriculture Deputy Minister Bui Ba Bong said in a plan seen by Reuters on Tuesday that the government will use 415 million doses of Dutch and Chinese vaccines in a program starting in two provinces beginning Aug. 1.
Other provinces facing high risk of infection would follow between Oct. 1 and Nov. 10, before the arrival of the winter when the deadly virus seems to thrive best.
The Chinese vaccine against the H5N1 virus, which international health officials fear could mutate into a form which might trigger a human pandemic, would be used on ducks.
A Dutch vaccine against the H5N2 virus, a less virulent strain which is not widespread in Vietnam, will be used on chickens.
Vietnam decided on the Dutch vaccine because it had been used elsewhere while a vaccine against the H5N1 virus had been developed in China only early this year, Dau Ngoc Hao, deputy head of the Agriculture Ministry’s Animal Health Department, told Reuters.
Virus may be mutating again
On Monday, experts said the H5N1 virus seemed to be mutating yet again and may be able to hide in healthy-looking ducks, thus putting both other birds and people at risk in a region where duck farming is widespread.
Vietnamese officials say tests show the H5 component of the virus exists in ducks in the Mekong Delta but the birds show no symptoms, making it difficult to detect the disease.
The H5N1 virus has also killed 12 Thais and four Cambodians since it first swept across much of Asia in late 2003.
More than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in the region in a bid to halt the disease, but experts say it is now endemic in several countries, including Vietnam.
The World Health Organization says that the longer it takes to eradicate the H5N1 virus, the more likely it is to mutate into a form which can pass easily between humans.
So far, nearly all the victims have caught the virus through direct contact with infected fowl.
If it did mutate into a form which humans can pass to each other, the world faces the possibility of a pandemic which might kill millions of people with no immunity to it, the WHO says.