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Hungary claims major breakthrough in bird flu -

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(generated from captions) you, Tony, nice to see you. Hungary is claiming a major breakthrough in developing a bird flu vaccine. It says its vaccine has already been successfully trialled and could be ready for mass production by March next year. Hungary's Health Minister is so convinced he even used himself as a human guinea pig in the trials. Already Indonesia and a number of other countries have expressed interest in the vaccine. But doubt has been cast on it by the World Health Organisation. Shortly, we'll speak to the Health Minister Tony Abbott, but first Michael Edwards has this report. It was produced by Annamaria Talas. It's an unlikely looking threat, but one that's making its way west across Europe.

Bird flu, responsible for more than 60 deaths in Asia, has now infiltrated several European countries. With the virus on its doorstep, Hungary claims its scientists have jumped ahead of the rest of the world

to develop a vaccine. Hungary has 100 years of tradition in vaccine research and development. This provided a solid base for the researchers. We have our own vaccine production facilities, research and production available in Hungary and this made it possible to develop the H5N1 vaccine. Hungary's susceptibility to bird flu has become acute. The H5N1 virus has already been detected in nearby Romania and Russia. Now Hungary is convinced it's found a vaccine -

the country's health minister so confident, he's even inoculated himself. When the first human vaccine was completed, I volunteered to be the first to receive the test vaccine. It had risks, so if I didn't consider the likelihood of a new flu virus a very serious threat, I wouldn't have lined up to do it. 100 people were used in the trial, the costs running into millions of dollars, with the National Epidemiology Institute devoting its expertise to the task. Hungary's chief medical officer says it has proof beyond doubt it will be effective.

A new vaccine is considered effective if there is a 2.5 times increase of antibodies in the blood. Our vaccine increased the levels of antibodies to a 10 times higher level. It's taken six months to develop the vaccine. While several other countries, including Australia, are developing their own, Hungary claims it's already got strong interest in its product. Several south-east Asian countries, Arab countries, countries of the European Union, our neighbours and countries overseas showed interest for the vaccine.

If we were in production now, we could have sold tens of millions of vaccines. Indonesia is one of the countries who want the Hungarian vaccine,

but the World Health Organisation and the European Union have sounded a warning, questioning its quick development time and its effectiveness if the virus mutates. Australian virologist Alan Hampson also has some concerns about the Hungarian claims. There are a number of issues about making the vaccine against the H5 virus because of the potential danger of the virus still, even though it has been modified, and because the virus, as a modified organism, comes under the control in most countries of the genetics regulators. And, so, in Australia, for example, it's taken a little while, I believe, to get through those issues and make sure that everything is right up to speed in terms of safety and regulation. CSL is developing Australia's vaccine. Its trials are scheduled to be finished early next year, with a company spokeswoman saying the best case scenario

would be public release towards the end of 2006. Australia is set to host its own regional bird flu summit in Brisbane next week. Michael Edwards, Lateline.