The German national institute for veterinary research believes it may have developed a vaccine to protect birds from bird flu by mid-2006, its president said this week. "We have developed a prototype (vaccine) which, once it is passed for use, will be able to be quickly administered to a large number of birds through drinking water or a spray," Thomas Mettenleiter told AFP. Mettenleiter said it would be several months before the vaccine was ready for production and it would not be commercially available until the middle of next year. However, he stressed that the vaccine would act only on birds and not on humans infected with the potentially deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003 and is now spreading to Europe and Russia, fueling fears of a global influenza pandemic. There is currently no commercially available vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1 virus. Mettenleiter sought to calm fears about a pandemic, stressing that it was extremely unusual for the virus to pass to humans. "When you look at South-East Asia, billions of chickens live side-by-side with billions of humans in often small spaces and even in these conditions there have until now only been 120 confirmed cases of human infection, including 60 deaths, which shows that the virus doesn't transmit easily to humans."