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USDA Testing Bird Flu Vaccines

Nidhi Subbaraman reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “To stop the devastating global bird-flu outbreak that has killed over 100 million poultry, the U.S. and Europe are embracing a tactic many countries have long resisted: vaccines.

“The U.S. and parts of Europe don’t routinely inoculate poultry against bird flu, which emerges every few years and spreads and kills easily, but typically recedes after domestic birds are culled.

“Groups representing U.S. poultry companies have historically opposed vaccinating birds over concerns that inoculation could imperil trade. There are also questions about the logistics and cost of administering shots that must be injected into each chick or egg.”

The Wall Street Journal (Page A6 – April 15, 2023).

The Journal article pointed out that,

But the unprecedented destruction of this outbreak, which has felled 58 million farmed birds in the U.S. and is running into its third year in Europe, has driven governments and businesses to search for options.  Animal-health and pharmaceutical companies including Zoetis Inc., Ceva Animal Health, Boehringer Ingelheim and Merck & Co. have developed vaccines that are in testing.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research service expects results from tests of four vaccines in chickens in late May or early June, said Erica Spackman, a bird-flu expert at the agency. Two test vaccines were made by USDA labs and two were developed for past flu outbreaks by Merck and Zoetis. Tests in turkeys and ducks will follow. If effective, any vaccine would need additional approval within the agency before wider use.”

Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: March 2023, LDP-M-345, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, March 14, 2023.

Subbaraman added that, “The current dominant strain globally is a version of the H5N1 virus that triggered destruction in Europe in 2021. It was detected in U.S. wild birds in January 2022, and a few weeks later was found in commercial turkey flocks. More than 58 million commercial or backyard birds have died, with detections of the virus in wild birds in 49 states, according to the USDA.” 

Meanwhile, Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported late last week that, “The U.S. government is testing four potential bird flu vaccines for poultry, officials said on Friday, after more than 58 million chickens, turkeys and other birds have died in the nation’s worst outbreak ever.

“The trials, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service, are the first step in a lengthy process toward the possible first use of vaccines to protect U.S. poultry from the lethal virus.”

Polansek explained that, “Initial data from a study using a single dose of a vaccine are expected in May, while results from studies on two-dose vaccine regimens are expected in June, the USDA said.

“If the trials are successful and USDA decides to continue development, it would take at least 18-to-24 months for a vaccine that matches the current virus to be commercially available, the agency said.

“The government needs to ensure vaccinations would not disrupt trading with major buyers, said Greg Tyler, president of the industry group USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.”

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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