WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2013- The partial federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1 includes a branch of USDA that may impact livestock vaccine availability, according to industry members and the Animal Health Institute (AHI).
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) oversees the testing and release of vaccines used in animal health. However, CVB’s employees are furloughed, which means they cannot release vaccines for distribution.
This could cause a public health threat as well as a chain of disruption for the livestock industry, particular poultry, due to short windows for vaccinating.
“In other shutdowns CVB was considered an essential service,” said Ron Phillips, AHI’s Vice President for Legislative and Public Affairs. “According to USDA policy, CVB activities certainly belong in the public health exemption.”
According to an AHI memo, APHIS’s Plan for Operations during a Funding Hiatus cites an OMB document indicating that agencies should continue to “conduct essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property, including: … activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of food and drugs and safe use of hazardous materials.”
However, it came to AHI’s attention on Oct. 1 that the current USDA interpretation does not include CVB vaccine releases as an “essential service.”
Gary Baxter, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Ceva Animal Health, said about 150 million chicks are vaccinated each week—and vaccinating is mandatory.
“Diseases that cause widespread sickness and high mortality in the chickens mean 100 percent of chicks must be vaccinated,” he said.
The process involves a narrow window of time for vaccination, which must be done either immediately before or after hatching, or else the opportunity is permanently lost.
Many of the vaccines the industry uses are for food safety, including Salmonella prevention. “These obviously have a human health consideration,” Baxter noted.
“All vaccines have to be released by CVB, so inventory that is produced but not released is not available to be delivered to poultry producers,” Baxter explained.
In the layer segment of the chicken industry, approximately five million layer chickens per week are vaccinated when processed through incubation and hatchery facilities, according to AHI.
If vaccines, including those for Salmonella, are missed, then the flocks have no salmonella protection for their lifetime, which is approximately 65 weeks.
“Without the ability to vaccinate, they run the risk of breaks of disease for Salmonella, which is an important food safety organism,” according to AHI. “An estimated 1.2 million Salmonella-related illnesses occur each year and approximately 400 people die.”
The organization also noted that the entire U.S. veterinary biologics industry produces over 80 billion vaccine doses annually.
Ceva Animal Health, which has North American headquarters near Kansas City, notes that most large poultry producers keep a “just-in-time” supply of vaccines on hand, so many of them will not have reserves to sustain more than a couple of weeks.
Additionally, the industry is still able to send vaccines to CVB for approval even though it cannot conduct tests for release. This means the number of vaccines waiting to be released to customers will grow every day, causing a potential bottleneck that could back up production even after the agency is running again.
Because halting the release of vaccines from CVB can cause “imminent and negative” consequences to public health, AHI is urging USDA to change its interpretation to make CVB an essential service during the shutdown.
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