In what’s believed to be the first in the world, Finland will soon begin a vaccination campaign against avian influenza (bird flu).

“The vaccine campaign will be limited, with doses set to be available to groups including poultry farmers, veterinarians, scientists who study the virus, and people who work on fur farms housing animals like mink and fox and where there have been outbreaks,” STAT News reports.

The EU’s Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) will sign a joint procurement contract with Seqirus on behalf of 15 member countries, according to POLITICO.

The contract secures hundreds of thousands of doses of the bird flu shot for Europe.

Finland will get the first doses.

POLITICO reports:

The first batch of vaccines will be immediately shipped to Finland, the official said, where workers in mink farms are considered at risk of contracting the virus from contaminated animals.

The contract is currently for 640,000 doses, with the possibility to buy up to 40 million doses over four years.

HERA, which has been in talks with Seqirus for months, approached the company last year to ask it to update its zoonotic flu vaccine to the dominant circulating avian flu strain. But to do so, Seqirus asked for a minimum guarantee of sale, to make the transaction profitable — something HERA could guarantee through the joint procurement.

Mia Kontio, a health security official at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, told STAT News the country was waiting for 20,000 doses to arrive.

Health officials intend on administering them “as soon as the vaccines are in the country.”

Per STAT News:

The Finnish campaign also comes as the U.S. faces an H5N1 outbreak among dairy cattle — previously a species scientists thought wasn’t susceptible to the virus. Three dairy workers have had confirmed infections tied to the outbreak, and although the infections were all mild and there were no signs of forward transmission to other people, the cases underscored the risk to people who have contact with infected animals.

“The concern here is about the animal-human interface,” said Marc Lacey, the global executive director for pandemic at CSL Seqirus, the maker of several H5 vaccines, including the one Finland is planning on using.

Other countries are discussing deploying H5 vaccines or are working to secure supplies, Lacey said. The U.S., for example, last week hired CSL Seqirus to build up the number of H5 flu vaccine doses it has available. But Finland was the first country he knew of that actually planned to use the vaccine, at least in recent years outside research studies.

The vaccine to be administered in Finland is designed off a different avian influenza virus called H5N8, but researchers say the shot should still confer protection against H5N1. It’s the hemagglutinin component of the vaccine — the H part — that’s the main target. The vaccine also includes an adjuvant, a component that deepens the generated immune response.

European regulators authorized the vaccine, which is known as Zoonotic influenza vaccine Seqirus, based on a number of studies showing that it elicited immune responses that scientists think would be protective against avian influenza. Researchers can’t run traditional efficacy trials with such products because the virus isn’t circulating among people, so they’re typically approved based on these immunogenicity studies. The immunization is approved as a two-dose vaccine, with doses given at least three weeks apart.

Finland’s bird flu vaccination campaign follows the World Health Organization claiming an individual’s death in Mexico was due to the “first laboratory-confirmed human case of infection with an influenza A(H5N2) virus.”

JUST IN: World Health Organization Claims Death In Mexico Linked To Bird Flu Strain

The patient, a 59-year-old resident of the State of Mexico, had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals.

“The case had multiple underlying medical conditions. The case’s relatives reported that the case had already been bedridden for three weeks, for other reasons, prior to the onset of acute symptoms,” the WHO stated.

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