USDA recently announced that the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has begun highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) vaccination trials this month, including several candidates. Initial data from the trials should be available in May 2023.

“Should the trials be successful, and should USDA elect to continue development, the next step is identifying manufacturers interested in vaccine production,” USDA said in a press release. “Once one or more manufacturers are identified, there are 20 discrete stages to complete before vaccine delivery. These stages begin with feasibility work by the manufacturer and culminates with product label submission and review. General timeframes are 2.5-3 years; however, in emergency situations manufacturers may expedite development, resulting in a shortened timeframe to licensure.”

USDA’s press release went on to say that “from vaccine development to production timelines, to dissemination to flocks, there are many factors that make implementing a vaccine strategy a challenge and it would take time to deliver an effective vaccine. In a best case scenario, USDA estimates an 18-24 month timeline before having a vaccine that matches the currently circulating virus strain, is available in commercial quantities, and can be easily administered to commercial poultry.”

In addition to trade concerns, wherein if any of the U.S. poultry industries – which include broiler chickens, turkeys, ducks, and eggs – chose to pursue a vaccination campaign, nearly all trade markets for all U.S. poultry products would immediately be shut off, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing outlined his concerns with an HPAI vaccination strategy.

In an exchange with Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on March 16, Secretary Vilsack clarified USDA’s position on the use of an HPAI vaccine.

“The poultry industry is a crucial economic driver for my state as it represents 65 percent of Alabama’s agricultural income and provides 86,000 jobs,” Sen. Tuberville said. “Considering the U.S. exports approximately 18 percent of chicken meat production – which is valued at over $4 billion annually – we must maintain strong trade agreements and our export markets. I am concerned about HPAI vaccine mandates impacting those markets as most nations do not accept imports from vaccinating countries. It is my understanding that the use of a HPAI vaccine will not eliminate or eradicate the virus – similar to the COVID-19 vaccine. Since a vaccine will not keep birds from getting the virus or eradicate the virus from the U.S., do you think it is a useful tool?

“At the present time there is no vaccine for the current strain of the HPAI virus,” Secretary Vilsack said in response. “There are a number of vaccines that are in the process of being developed. There is a long way to go, Senator, before we can say we have a vaccine. Then there’s additional steps that have to be taken in order to determine the impact and effect of a vaccine on the ability to sell product overseas. There are a number of countries that will basically shut off exports if the meat has been vaccinated, if the poultry has been vaccinated. So, I think there’s a process there. But we’re a long way away from having a vaccine that is effective and a long way from having a vaccine that the rest of the world accepts.”

A YouTube video of the exchange can be found here.