With the recent spread of highly pathogenetic avian influenza (HPAI) from wild birds to dairy cows, there have been renewed conversations about whether the U.S. should vaccinate our commercial poultry industry against the virus. NCC President Mike Brown penned the following column discussing this topic which ran this week in the Virginia Poultry Federation’s biannual newsletter.

During the current outbreak, of the birds affected, almost 75 percent have been commercial egg-laying hens, 16 percent turkeys, and seven percent broilers and broiler breeders. The other impacted poultry sectors include ducks, backyard poultry, and game birds.

Vaccination is not a silver bullet or a proven eradication method for HPAI. Vaccinating commercial poultry will not eliminate HPAI circulating in and being spread through the wild bird population. Vaccinating commercial poultry will not keep dairy cows from being infected with HPAI. Vaccinating commercial poultry will not even keep all vaccinated birds free of the virus, either.

NCC also maintains reservations about an HPAI vaccine due to the impact its use would have on broiler exports and 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, these countries do not import from countries that do vaccinate.

The U.S. broiler industry is the second largest exporter of chicken in the world, exporting about 16 percent of our chicken meat production valued at more than $5 billion annually. If we start vaccinating for HPAI in the U.S. – regardless of what poultry sector vaccinates – the broiler industry will lose our ability to export which will cost the industry and the U.S. economy billions and billions of dollars every year. These export losses would also have a devastating impact on thousands of family farmers who raise the birds. Even if one sector (egg layers, turkeys, ducks) proceeds with a vaccine, the broiler industry will be impacted as our trading partners view all poultry (egg layers, turkeys, broilers, ducks, etc.) the same.

With that said, NCC will continue to encourage ongoing discussions and research regarding biosecurity practices to protect all poultry and a potential vaccination strategy that will not impact our ability to export.  We currently support USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) “stamping out” policy to eradicate the virus and we believe that this is the best approach to eliminating HPAI in the U.S.  We also encourage APHIS to continue to work with our trading partners to ensure that, should a vaccination strategy be deployed, we can continue to feed the world with safe, wholesome and affordable poultry products.