Vietnam urges speed up of bird flu vaccination

Vietnam has urged local governments to vaccinate poultry faster to try to avoid future bird flu flare-ups, a senior agriculture official said Wednesday.

So far, some 40 million poultry have been vaccinated since a new round of shots began last month, while provinces have been encouraged to immunize another 90 million birds by the end of next month, said Deputy Agriculture Minister Bui Ba Bong.

If the shots are not given now, the vaccination campaign could be thrown off schedule. It could result in delaying immunizations that need to be given during the fall months when Vietnam is highly susceptible to bird flu outbreaks.

Bong blamed the slowdown on a shortage of funds and growing complacency among local governments because Vietnam has not experienced any bird flu outbreaks in poultry since December.

The vaccines were imported from China and the Netherlands.

Vietnam started its nationwide vaccination campaign in August 2005, and international health and animal experts have attributed the effort to Vietnam's recent success at slowing the spread of the H5N1 virus.

Vietnam, the hardest hit country, has not reported any human cases since November.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi announced Vietnam would receive US$50,000 worth of protective gear to help health officials fight the virus.

Vietnam will receive goggles, masks, gloves, protective overalls and disinfecting wipes.

Bird flu has killed at least 113 people since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. Experts worry the virus will mutate into a form that is highly contagious among humans, potentially sparking a pandemic. So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds, reports the AP.

I.L.