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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Begins Search for a Bird Flu Vaccine

LONDON -- Europe is ready to expedite approval of a bird flu vaccine, but a preventative shot is unlikely to be available before next year's winter flu season, Europe's top medicines regulator said Monday.

"That would be the earliest we could have such a vaccine, based on this kind of application system," Thomas Lonngren, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said in an interview.

As of now, no manufacturer has applied to sell a pandemic flu vaccine in Europe, but Lonngren said he expected to receive the first draft applications before the end of the year.

A vaccine is the best hope to prevent millions of deaths should the H5N1 strain mutate to a form that can spread easily from person to person.

Concern about bird flu has swept Europe in recent days after tests confirmed that the disease had infected poultry in Romania and Turkey.

Several companies including Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Chiron are racing to develop a pandemic flu vaccine, but they cannot complete the work until the final humanized strain of the virus emerges.

In a bid to speed up the process, the EMEA has drawn up rules allowing firms to submit "core dossiers" before they formulate vaccines with the precise strain circulating.

Lonngren said it would take the London-based agency around four months to review an experimental vaccine under the fast-track process, assuming there were no problems.

Health care experts warn that time will be extremely short if bird flu starts to spread easily between humans, since it could take six months to manufacture adequate stocks.

 Greek authorities confirmed a case of bird flu Monday on a farm on the Aegean island of Oinouses, The Associated Press reported.

Agriculture Minister Evangelos Basiakos said the H5 virus had been detected in one of nine turkeys tested. More testing is being conducted to determine whether it is the deadly H5N1 strain.