“We are probably 18 months or so away from being able to identify a vaccine that would be effective for this particular (avian flu) that we’re dealing with now,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday in front of the House Agriculture Committee.

Vilsack also said USDA plans to discuss poultry vaccinations with trading partners, amid concerns that other countries could restrict imports of vaccinated U.S. poultry.

NCC shares these concerns and has serious reservations about a vaccine for highly pathogenetic avian influenza (HPAI) at this time, the primary one being trade.  Most countries, including the U.S., do not recognize countries that vaccinate as free of HPAI due to concerns that vaccines can mask the presence of the disease. Therefore, they do not accept exports from countries that do vaccinate.

The U.S. broiler industry is the second largest exporter of chicken in the world, exporting about 18 percent of our chicken meat production valued at more than $5 billion annually. If we start vaccinating for HPAI in the U.S., the broiler industry will lose our ability to export which will have a significant impact on the industry – while costing billions and billions of dollars to the U.S. economy every year. These export losses would also have a devastating impact on thousands of family farmers who raise the birds.  Even if one sector (eggs, turkeys) moves forward with a vaccine, the broiler industry will be impacted as our trading partners view all poultry (egg layers, turkeys, broilers, ducks, etc.) the same.

In addition, a vaccine will not eliminate the virus. Birds can still get HPAI and may not show signs of having the virus which allows the virus to replicate and spread (known as masking).

During the current outbreak, of the birds affected, about 73 percent have been commercial egg-laying hens, 17 percent turkeys, and seven percent broilers and broiler breeders (meat chickens.) The rest have been ducks, backyard chickens, and game birds. So the U.S. poultry sector that least needs a vaccine would have the most risk from using one.

NCC supports ongoing discussions about a vaccination program, but currently, we support the eradication policy of APHIS and believe that right now this is the best approach to eliminating HPAI in the U.S.