The vaccine, developed by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, is the world's first live vaccine against bird flu and Newcastle disease, the China Daily said on Monday, quoting the Ministry of Agriculture.

The ministry's chief veterinary officer, Jia Youling, was quoted as saying that in addition to being injected, the new vaccine can be administered orally, nasally or by spraying.

Currently, China is using a vaccine that must be injected. Jia said: "The mass-application techniques can not only significantly reduce labour costs but also increase immunity among fowls.

"The shot will also be very inexpensive as its production cost is only one-fifth of the inactivated vaccines available on the market."

Mass production

The government approved the vaccine for mass production on Friday, with one billion shots expected to be produced by the end of this month.

It will be used from the beginning of next year in combination with other vaccines, Jia said.

China intends to vaccinate its
entire poultry population

Scientists in the institute spent four years developing the vaccine.

Unlike bird flu, Newcastle disease is endemic to many countries and is also highly-contagious among poultry and wild birds.

Experiments showed that the new vaccine can also protect mammals, such as mice, from bird flu, the paper quoted experts as saying.

Techniques used in researching and producing the vaccine can also help scientists to develop a vaccine to protect humans against bird flu, Jia said.

China for the first time reported human cases of bird flu this year, with six confirmed cases so far including two fatalities. It has also reported 31 outbreaks in poultry.

The government announced last month it intended to vaccinate its entire poultry population against bird flu.

China's poultry population is the world's biggest with 14 billion fowls produced each year.

Premature predictions

By mid-December, China had vaccinated 6.85 billion domestic birds, Jia said earlier. Other officials had said most of the poultry which has not been consumed this year have been vaccinated.

Scientists fear the virus could
mutate resulting in a pandemic

Some officials have said the vaccination campaign has proven successful as the country has reported only one bird flu outbreak this month.

However Shigeru Omi, the World Health Organisation's regional director, said it was "too early" to conclude the epidemic was under control, according to Xinhua news agency.

He urged China to strengthen the surveillance and training of personnel, adding that infrastructure was lacking as five of China's six human cases came with no prior reports of poultry outbreaks nearby.

The bird flu virus has killed more than 70 people in Asia since 2003. It currently spreads among animals and from animals to humans.

Scientists fear it could mutate to a strain easily spread between humans, causing a pandemic.