The United States government has begun testing four potential bird flu vaccines for chickens, as the country deals with its worst-ever outbreak that has led to the deaths of over 58 million chickens, turkeys, and other birds.
The trials represent the initial phase of a lengthy process that could eventually result in the first use of bird flu vaccines in the farming industry. Birds intended for human consumption would be injected with a vaccine to prevent them from getting bird flu.
When an outbreak of bird flu is identified on a farm, standard protocol dictates that all animals near the affected bird must be killed, regardless of their health status. This practice has led to the slaughter of millions of chickens, turkeys, and other birds, even if they’re not infected with bird flu.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is testing vaccines from Zoetis Inc, Merck Animal Health, and two developed by its Agricultural Research Service. Zoetis previously supplied its vaccine to a USDA warehouse in 2016 following a massive bird flu outbreak in 2015, but it remained unused.
Initial data from a single vaccine dose study are anticipated in May, while results from two-dose vaccine studies are expected in June. If the trials prove successful and the USDA decides to continue development, it will take at least 18 to 24 months for a vaccine matching the current virus to become commercially available.
France announced at the beginning of April that it had initiated an order for 80 million bird flu vaccine doses for use in ducks this autumn if final trial results are positive, making it the first EU member to start giving the bird flu vaccine to farm animals.