EU orders bird flu vaccine supplies from CSL Seqirus

bird flu
Sarah Halliday

CSL Seqirus has agreed to provide 665,000 doses of a bird flu vaccine to the European Commission as part of the EU’s efforts to prepare for a potential outbreak of the disease, with an option to supply 40 million more.

The contract covers so-called ‘pre-pandemic’ vaccines – also known as zoonotic influenza shots – which cover a strain that is emerging and that may have pandemic potential. The initial supplies are intended for people who are most exposed to potential transfers of avian influenza from birds or animals, such as poultry farm workers and veterinarians.

CSL Seqirus’ H5N1 vaccine is the only one authorised for zoonotic use in the EU, and the initial supplies of its jab are already earmarked for use in Finland where there have been H5N1 outbreaks not only involving wild and domesticated birds, but also on fur farms.

A total of 15 EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries have signed up to participate in the procurement contract, which will last for four years. According to the EC, it allows each participating country to take into account their public health context and order vaccines depending on national need.

There were no active cases in either humans or cattle in the EU as of early June, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

“While the threat of avian influenza to the general population remains low, we need to protect people at higher risk,” said Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.

“We are ready to take further action should the situation evolve in the future,” she added. “Our European Health Union serves to protect people’s lives and livelihoods, and being prepared for health threats is at the core of our work.”

The vaccines are being manufactured in CSL Seqirus’ European manufacturing sites in Amsterdam and Liverpool. The latter facility uses scalable production and is one of the largest sites in Europe to manufacture seasonal influenza vaccines.

Last month, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expanded a pandemic flu vaccine agreement with CSL Seqirus, asking the company to complete fill-and-finish activities on a stockpile of 4.8 million pre-pandemic H5N1 doses matched to the currently circulating strain.

The step-up to the contract comes in response to an increase in human cases of bird flu linked to an outbreak in dairy cattle earlier this year.

All told, there have been around 900 human cases of H5N1 reported since 2003, and the mortality rate from infection is estimated to be around 50% – which is considerably higher than COVID-19, at around 4%, and seasonal flu at 1%.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the first known case of a human case of influenza H5N2, which was fatal, although the infected man had underlying health conditions.

Photo by Sarah Halliday on Unsplash