Bird flu vaccines becoming more popular

Bird flu vaccines are slowly becoming a reality as the global poultry industry tries to find an alternative to the mass cullings that have been used to prevent the spread of the disease.

The huge numbers of cullings in the latest outbreak (58 million in the United States and 50 million in the European Union) have hastened the drive to make vaccines effective and acceptable. There has been resistance to vaccines, primarily due to fears that vaccination could mask infections, and result in trade bans.

Governments are likely to support an effective vaccine because, with notable exceptions such as South Africa, they have been paying increasing sums in compensation as poultry culls have escalated in the world’s worst bird flu outbreak.

Now France has taken the plunge. Poultry World reports that France, one of the countries worst affected by bird flu outbreaks, plans a vaccination programme later this year if final trial results are positive. It has issued a tender for 80 million doses of bird flu vaccines and is the first EU country to take this step.

“France has mandated 2 companies, France’s Ceva Animal Health and Germany’s Boehringher Ingelheim, to develop the avian influenza vaccines,” Poultry World reports.

“Both vaccines have been found to be effective in protecting birds against the virus itself and – more importantly – also prevented birds from shedding the virus.”

Vaccine trials are continuing in other EU countries, and the United States has begun testing bird flu vaccines.

The US trials are the first step in a lengthy process toward the possible first use of vaccines to protect US poultry from the lethal virus. According to the US Department of Agriculture, it could take up to two years before a vaccine is commercially available.

The South African poultry industry is watching international developments closely but has not yet decided to approach the government about a change in policy.