Hong Kong Scientific Committee recommends H5N1 vaccines for some lab workers

Hong Kong's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases of the Center for Health Protection provided recommendations on Tuesday for human influenza H5N1 pre-pandemic and pandemic vaccines.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that following a review of the latest scientific data, the SC recommends that vaccines be provided to specific laboratory workers with higher risk of avian influenza exposure during the inter-pandemic phase.

"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," the spokesman said.

Workers eligible for the vaccines work with on the large-scale production or manipulation of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus, work with the virus for long periods of time, work with virus strains resistant to antiviral compounds or work with strains with the potential for increased mammalian transmissibility.

The spokesman said the SC does not recommend procuring the vaccines by advanced purchase agreement, a contract with vaccine manufacturers to reserve a certain percentage of vaccine output capacity.

"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 spokesman said. "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."

On Monday and Tuesday, U.S. federal health officials held a two-day workshop at the National Institutes of Health to hear feedback from biosecurity experts and researchers related to H5N1 avian influenza research. Studies involving lab-engineering H5N1 strains were put on hold after two studies were published in May and June that ignited a scientific controversy, CIDRAP News reports.

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