APHIS: Avian flu vaccines must meet 'additional criteria' before emergency use

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 4, 2015 - USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has opted not to allow the emergency use of certain vaccines with the potential to fight highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), citing trade and efficacy issues with available drugs. 

Presently, there is no vaccine designed to fight the H5N2 strain of HPAI responsible for more than 99 percent of the more than 45 million birds lost to the disease's recent outbreak. APHIS was considering allowing the use of vaccines designed to fight other strains of the disease which would have been partially effective. However, APHIS said in a release Wednesday that the vaccines are not “well-matched, effective” options to fight the disease.

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“The vaccine currently available offers just 60 percent effectiveness in chickens, leaving 4 in 10 birds unprotected,” APHIS said, noting that the effectiveness in turkeys is still under investigation. “(APHIS) will reevaluate its vaccination decision as more effective vaccines are developed and ready for use, carefully considering both the efficacy of the vaccine and the potential trade impacts.”

APHIS also noted that “some significant trading partners” have indicated that they would ban the import of all U.S. poultry and eggs if producers began vaccinating before those countries could complete a risk assessment of the drugs under emergency use. APHIS said the bans could be devastating to the poultry industry.

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“The loss of these markets could potentially cost U.S. poultry producers billions in lost export sales that would need to be diverted to other export and domestic markets, with no clear timeline for reopening closed markets,” APHIS noted, adding that risk assessments can take a great deal of time.   

In a recent interview with Agri-Pulse, John Clifford, APHIS deputy administrator of veterinary services, said that a vaccine to treat the H5 strains of HPAI is currently being researched by the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga. under USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Clifford said there is no definite timeline on the completion of that research.

“Hopefully that work will be wrapped up before too long and we can look and see how the effectiveness of that vaccine might be experimentally and then make a determination or a plan on how and when we would use that vaccine if we would use it,” Clifford said.

After first appearing in December in a backyard flock of mixed poultry in Oregon, the disease has spread to three of the four flyways in the U.S., missing only the Atlantic flyway covering much of the Eastern seaboard. According to APHIS data, as of June 2, the disease has been detected in 207 cases resulting in the depopulation of more than 45 million birds.

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