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Scientific Committee's recommendations on human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic and pandemic vaccines

     A spokesman for the Department of Health (DH) announced today (December 18) that the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases (SC) under the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the DH has provided its recommendations on human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic and pandemic vaccines.      

     The spokesman said that after reviewing the latest scientific data, including local disease epidemiology, international experience and the World Health Organization (WHO)'s recommendations, the SC recommends providing human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic vaccine for the protection of specific laboratory workers at higher risk of exposure to avian influenza H5N1 virus during the inter-pandemic phase.        

     The laboratory workers who are eligible for the vaccination are those involved in:
* large-scale production or manipulation of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus;
* working with the virus over a long period;
* working with HPAI H5N1 virus strains that are resistant to licensed antiviral compounds; or
* working with strains with the potential for increased transmissibility in mammalian species.       

     "As recommended by the SC, a locally registered human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic vaccine, which is based on the currently more widely circulating strain and demonstrated cross-reactivity to more clades should be the choice of vaccines," said the spokesman, adding that the DH will proceed with the necessary procedures in procuring the vaccines recommended by the SC.   

     The spokesman explained that a human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic vaccine contains antigens that correspond to circulating avian influenza H5N1 virus strains that are thought to have the potential to cause a pandemic.     

     However, given the uncertainties about the timing and the strain/subtype of the next pandemic, physical stockpiling of additional human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic vaccine was not recommended by the SC.

     As regards pandemic vaccines, the spokesman explained that it is a vaccine against a future pandemic influenza strain with unknown antigenic composition. It will protect against the pandemic influenza strain but will only be available after the emerging virus of the next influenza pandemic has been characterised.  

     In view of the doubtful benefit based on currently available information, the SC at present does not recommend the option of procuring the pandemic vaccines by advance purchase agreement (APA), that is, a contract with vaccine manufacturers for reserving a certain percentage of vaccine output capacity.

     The spokesman stressed, "As part of the preparedness plan for influenza pandemic, the DH has stockpiled sufficient antiviral agents for the treatment of patients as well as chemoprophylaxis for certain target groups including health care workers.

     "The DH will continue to monitor the development of pre-pandemic/pandemic vaccines and APA closely and recommendations are subject to review by the SC if new evidence/option becomes available," he added.

     The full version of SC's recommendations on human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic and pandemic vaccine has been uploaded to the CHP website ( today.

Ends/Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:47


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