HEALTH officials are drawing up plans to stockpile vaccines in case of a bird flu pandemic in humans.
There is no human bird flu jab on the market so the UK Health Security Agency could load up on generic flu vaccines to prepare.
It would be the first time it has been done for the disease, which is regarded as a top threat for the next pandemic.
The UKHSA advertised to suppliers in May but has not yet bought any jabs.
It said: “The Department of Health intends to run a procurement exercise to source H5 influenza vaccine to stockpile in the UK for avian flu preparedness.”
There is no evidence yet that bird flu, known as H5N1, can transmit between people.
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If it evolves scientists hope jabs for the broader H5 human strains could protect high-risk Brits.
Professor James Wood, infectious disease expert at Cambridge University, said: “You’d be looking to get the closest match.
“This virus is currently quite poorly adapted to spread in humans but there is a possibility of a poultry and human virus combining to make one that could spread.
“We know flu is a very high pandemic risk.
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“I think that with the Covid inquiry going on and the benefit of hindsight there’s a very strong argument that we should be preparing for the possibility.”
The bug has been rife in wild birds and on chicken and turkey farms for years.
Four UK poultry workers have tested positive this year but none fell ill.
The risk appears higher in the Far East, with two deaths in Cambodia and at least one “cluster” of cases that raised fears of human-to-human transmission.
A jabs rollout could focus on the approximately 38,000 poultry workers if people caught the virus from birds, or more than 500,000 frontline NHS staff if it transmitted between people.
The UKHSA this year ordered Covid-style modelling of a potential human outbreak and looked into bird flu lateral flow tests.
Former UK Covid adviser and now chief scientist at the World Health Organisation, Sir Jeremy Farrar, said in February that governments should stockpile jabs to prepare.
He urged countries to develop vaccines for “every strain of influenza that exists in the animal kingdom”.
A UKHSA spokesperson said: “As part of our ongoing pandemic preparedness work, earlier this year we explored how the H5 influenza vaccine might strengthen the UK's preparedness against a potential avian influenza pandemic – if one was to ever emerge.
“This work continues.
“It is common practice for us to continually assess our ability to respond to a range of potential risks.
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“The risk to people in the UK from avian influenza is very low.
“It is primarily a disease of birds and there is currently no evidence that it can spread more easily to people or that it can spread between people.”
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