Japan will become the first country in the world, to vaccinate six thousands health workers and other staff against bird flu, over the next few months. The programme might be extended in order to cover millions more.
Bird flu has caused 240 deaths since 1993, none in Japan. But Japanese fear that an outbreak elsewhere in Asia could spread quickly to their country, that has some of the world’s most densely-populated areas.
Even though bird flu is currently pretty difficult to catch for humans, health authorities fear it could mutate into a form much more easily spread among humans, and cause a pandemic.
In case of a major outbreak happens, Japan has already stockpiles 20 million doses of so-called “pre-pandemic” bird flu vaccine.
This vaccine has been made using the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease, which has been collected in Vietnam and Indonesia.
Yoichi Masuzoe, Japanese Health Minister, made the proposal for vaccination on Tuesday, which was backed up on Wednesday, by a government-appointment panel of experts.
Bird flu precautions
The plan is to start by using 6,400 doses of vaccine to inoculate doctors, quarantine inspectors and other health and immigration officials. The government aims to expand the programme to others, if it is successful.
“If we obtain good results over its effectiveness and safety, we want to consider vaccinating (an additional) 10 million people who are in medical occupations” or other key jobs such as at utilities, said Mr Masuzoe to reporters.
With this programme, Japan is taking bird flu precautions to higher levels than anywhere in the world. And it is probably the only Asian country with the resources to do it.
The question is to know whether it’s over-reacting of not to the bird flu threat ?
Gregory Hartl, World Health Organization spokesman, told the Associated Press that the vaccinations planned by Japan were “a big roll of a dice.”
But even though the WHO isn’t convinced that Japanese programme would improve the chances of Japan weathering a major bird flu outbreak, Mr Hartl added“obviously, the Japanese think there’s some benefit to be had from this, and we are not going to prevent an individual country from using their resources.”