The European Union has announced on June 11th that it has signed a contract to purchase vaccines from the British laboratory Seqirus to prevent human contamination from avian influenza. Fifteen member states, including France, are participating in this joint purchase (up to 665,000 doses). The contract will allow them to “order vaccines according to [their] needs” to “prevent the spread or emergence of potential outbreaks.” The first shipments are already “being prepared” to Finland, with shipments to “other countries” to follow. The doses will be intended for those most at risk of avian influenza contamination, such as poultry farm workers and veterinarians.

Seqirus’ vaccine is currently the only one authorized in the Union against influenza caused in humans by H5 strains of the avian influenza virus. Two such viruses are of particular concern to health authorities: H5N1, which has been decimating wildlife since 2020 up to Antarctica and spreading since March in cattle farms in the United States; and H5N2, which was found in poultry farms in western Mexico in March.

Three human infections with H5N1 have been recorded in the United States so far. Each case involved workers in contact with infected herds. In early June, the World Health Organization (WHO) also announced the death of the first human infected with H5N2. A “multifactorial” death, according to the WHO, as the 59-year-old man also suffered from chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and systemic hypertension.

Currently, no human-to-human infections have been confirmed, as reported by Libération. However, the scientific community is concerned about more dangerous mutations of the H5N1 strain, which could be facilitated by its significant circulation in the animal world.

As the threat of avian influenza looms, the European Union’s proactive approach in securing vaccines for humans is a crucial step in preventing potential outbreaks and protecting those most vulnerable to the disease. The collaboration among member states underscores the importance of collective action in addressing global health challenges. Continued vigilance and coordination will be essential in mitigating the risks associated with avian influenza and safeguarding public health.