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Finland becomes first country to vaccinate its population against avian influenza

The doses will be reserved for dairy workers. The European Union has also purchased four million doses for 15 of its member states.

A chicken in a barnyard(Ulises Ruiz / AFP)

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Finland this week became the first country in the world to approve a bird flu vaccination program for its population. Authorities announced Tuesday that they will offer preventive vaccinations for workers in sectors exposed to animal diseases.

To meet its target, the Finnish government, in the hands of centrist conservatives, has purchased doses for a full vaccination schedule of 10,000 people. Finland is not alone in this program. The European Union also purchased a total sum of nearly 40 million doses for 15 of its member states for a four-year term. As of this decision, it will receive an immediate delivery of 665,000 doses of the vaccine.

Like the European Union, the vaccine that Finland has purchased is of Australian manufacture. Its manufacturer, CSL Seqirus, told Reuters that Finland will be the first country to use its vaccine. The Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare said in a statement, "The vaccine will be offered to those over the age of 18 who are at increased risk of contracting avian influenza due to their work or other circumstances."

United States began studies in dairy workers

In the United States, federal health authorities announced that they have begun a series of tests and investigations focusing on the country's dairy workers and the impact of avian influenza on them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a collaboration with the Michigan state administration to conduct these early studies aimed at understanding how workers became ill after contact with H5N1 avian flu-infected livestock.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is testing what is known as flash pasteurization in dairy products. The move comes after studies assessed by the government raised doubts about whether the method neutralizes all infectious viruses in milk.

Despite the new avian flu study measures, the CDC assures that the public health risk is currently low. Since late March more than 120 herds in 12 states have tested positive for this highly contagious infection, which appears to spread through contact with raw milk.

The federal government has declared at least four cases of human infection, of which three were from contact with cattle and one was from contact with poultry. The cases occurred in three different states.