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Finland to offer bird flu vaccine to select groups of people, a possible global first

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STAT

Finland is preparing to offer vaccines to people at risk of exposure to an avian influenza strain spreading among farmed and wild animals, health officials there said, potentially becoming the first country to take such a step as concerns about the threat the virus poses to people intensify.

The vaccine campaign will be limited, with doses set to be available to groups including poultry farmers, veterinarians, scientists who study the virus, and people who work on fur farms housing animals like mink and fox and where there have been outbreaks.

In an email, Mia Kontio, a health security official at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, told STAT the country was waiting for 20,000 doses to arrive, but planned to administer them “as soon as the vaccines are in the country.”

The decision to start providing vaccines reflects fears that people in close contact with infected animals could contract the H5N1 virus themselves. The virus is, for now, not particularly adept at infecting humans or, more importantly, spreading among them. But scientists worry that as the virus infects more mammalian species, and if it encounters more human cells, then the higher the chances are that it evolves to become more of a threat to people.

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