More bird flu vaccination success

Slow but steady progress is being made in vaccinating poultry against avian influenza (bird flu).

Earlier this year, France reported on a successful pilot campaign to vaccinate millions of ducks. This is the first large-scale vaccination programme tried anywhere in the world, and vaccination has yet to be implemented in any commercial chicken operations.

Now Reuters reports that the Dutch government has announced that two vaccines tested by the Wageningen veterinary research centre have proved effective against highly infectious bird flu in a first experiment conducted under a controlled environment.

“Not only did the vaccines give poultry used in the lab protection against disease symptoms but they also countered the spreading of the bird flu,” the government said in a statement.

One vaccine was produced by France’s Ceva Animal Health and the other by Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim, an official document on the Dutch government website showed.

Bird flu has been spreading around the world in the past year, killing more than 200 million birds – and six million in the Netherlands alone – sending egg prices rocketing and raising concern among governments about human transmission.

Some countries, including China, already vaccinate against bird flu and as the virus seems to have become endemic, a number of other governments that initially opposed vaccines are now reconsidering. Their opposition centred on fears a vaccine could mask the spread of bird flu but tests indicate it would not be the case with the two vaccines tested in the Netherlands.

As part of a European programme, the Netherlands has been testing bird flu vaccines for egg-laying hens while France is carrying out tests on ducks, Italy on turkeys and Hungary on Pekin ducks.

A field trial will be launched in the Netherlands to see whether the vaccines that work in a laboratory setting are also effective if applied in wider conditions. The trial should take more than a year to give an idea of how long chickens are still immune after vaccination.

In South Africa the SA Poultry Association (SAPA) has appealed to the government to implement a mandatory vaccination programme to avert a potentially disastrous winter outbreak of bird flu. It has also urged an easing of the onerous conditions that must be met before producers will be permitted to vaccinate their flocks.