Finland offers vaccination against bird flu to those working with poultry, or on fur farms

Finland has become the first country in the EU to vaccinate against the H5N1 avian flu, currently spreading among US cattle, announcing that it will use the Sequirus vaccine that has been jointly procured at the EU level. 

Finland’s chief physician with the Infectious Diseases Control and Vaccines Unit in the Institute for Health and Welfare, Hanna Nohynek said the Finnish wanted to start vaccinating already last year, “as a precautionary measure”, but at the time, there was no vaccine available. 

The highly pathogenic avian flu was widespread in wild and domestic birds in 2023. In July 2023, the southern and central Ostorbothnia regions of Finland reported an outbreak among farmed foxes, minks, and raccoons. This was only the second known outbreak in fur animal farms since an earlier outbreak in Spain.

Speaking at a World Health Organisation-organised briefing on the latest H5N1 developments, Professor Ian Brown, chair of the ‘OFFLU’ network of expertise on animal influenza, said the virus does not flourish in humans and most human cases have concerned those who have been in very close contact with poultry carrying the virus.

The presence of the virus in mammals raises alarm as it shows that it is adapting and poses a greater threat of mammal-to-mammal transmission. Brown said there would be cause for concern if the virus became endemic in US cattle, where it could become more adept and carry a higher risk of moving to humans.