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Flu vaccine approved for emergency use in NZ

December 21, 2007

New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has approved a modified live vaccine for use in the event of an outbreak of equine influenza.

The flu alert Flu Avert I.N vaccine joins the two inactivated equine flu vaccines that MAF Biosecurity already has approval to use in an outbreak.

Biosecurity NZ's Team Manager Animal Response, Andre van Halderen, says the department is broadening its vaccine options to ensure it has a wide range of response options at its disposal.

The department welcomed ERMA's decision on the vaccine, which has been used in the United States since 1999, and also in Canada.

Unlike the vaccine being used in the current Australian pandemic, it is administered nasally and not by needle.

Mr van Halderen says the Flu Avert I.N vaccine will only be used in an outbreak. The decision to vaccinate - and which vaccine to use - will be determined by the strain of virus involved, the extent of the outbreak, and the purpose for which the vaccine is intended to be used.

"This approval further strengthens our response capability should we ever face an outbreak of the virus and is part of the response preparedness work we are undertaking with the equine industry," he says.

The vaccine is not genetically modified. It contains a weakened live equine influenza virus.

The vaccine programme which has proved crucial in the fight against equine flu in Australia was delayed for a short time while necessary approval was sought from government agencies for its roll-out.

While ERMA approval will speed up an introduction of the vaccine, its use will also require the approval of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority's Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Group before it could be used.

ERMA New Zealand's General Manager, New Organisms, Dr Libby Harrison, said the fact that the rapid approval process was used in this case indicated that the flu vaccine met certain low-risk criteria.

It meant it could be assessed more quickly than usual, provided the required level of information was provided.

Dr Harrison says in approving the vaccine the authority's decision-making committee considered potential adverse effects on public safety and health, valued species, societies and communities, the economy, the environment and natural habitats.

"The Committee decided that the risks posed by the vaccine are negligible. However, in recognition of the risks, the committee has imposed conditions on storage, handling and use of the vaccine."

The use of the Flu Avert I.N vaccine in the event of equine influenza being identified in horses in New Zealand has a number of conditions placed on its use:

Dr Harrison says the approval of this vaccine gives MAF an additional tool for use in case of an outbreak of equine influenza in New Zealand.

The Flu Avert I.N vaccine stimulates an immune response that is similar to the response that occurs when the horse catches a virulent wild strain of the virus.



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