By Louise Hogan
THE Government has ordered more than 400,000 doses of a test human vaccine against the deadly H5N1 strain.
Minister of State at the Health Department Brian Lenihan confirmed Irish officials are working with the British authorities to acquire the vaccine against bird flu in humans. The unlicensed vaccine will be given to health workers and other essential staff if there is a pandemic in Ireland.
Mr Lenihan said that planning was taking place both within the HSE and at Government level.
"Of course there is no evidence of an outbreak in humans, there is no evidence of an outbreak among the poultry population in Ireland or among wild birds in Ireland either.
"But of course we are monitoring the position and are collaborating with our European partners in devising appropriate responses."
In Britain, healthcare companies have been asked to pitch for a contract to develop 120 million vaccine doses - enough for two jabs for everyone in Britain - once the exact strain of a pandemic virus is known.
The Health Department said the vaccine could offer some protection against H5N1. It has secured sufficient vaccine for 400,000 doses to cover healthcare workers and other main groups involved.
Health Minister Mary Harney said the purchase forms part of the award of the contracts to British pharmaceutical firms Chiron and Baxter announced by Britain for the supply of the vaccine.
Experts believe a stockpile of the vaccine could be used as a first line of defence for key healthcare workers and other essential officials while a vaccine against the exact pandemic flu strain is manufactured.