U.S. regulators Tuesday approved the first vaccine against bird flu, which is aimed at protecting people from a pandemic. The government plans to buy enough doses of the Sanofi Aventis product to immunize 20 million people in the event of a global outbreak triggered by H5N1, the avian virus now causing a pandemic in birds.
The vaccine will not be available commercially but will be added to the government's stockpile of emergency supplies.
"The threat of an influenza pandemic is, at present, one of the most significant public health issues our nation and world faces," Andrew von Eschenbach, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in a statement. "The approval of this vaccine is an important step forward in our protection against a pandemic."
H5N1 has infected more than 300 people since 2003, and more than half of them have died. H5N1 was first identified in Hong Kong 10 years ago.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service