US working on limited avian influenza vaccination for turkeys

The move best meets a benefit-cost strategy
calendar icon 25 May 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

The United States is working on an avian influenza vaccination scenario focusing on turkeys in the few states that gather the largest number of turkey farms, a move that would best meet a benefit-cost strategy, Reuters reported, citing its chief veterinary officer.

However, no decision to vaccinate has yet been made, Rosemary Sifford, who is also deputy administrator of the Veterinary Services program at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), told Reuters at the general session of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) in Paris.

The conference has been focusing on highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly called bird flu.

The severity of the current outbreak has led some governments to reconsider vaccinating poultry, but others such as the United States remain reluctant, citing trade curbs this would entail.

"Any vaccination strategy would need to be a very focused strategy... I would certainly not expect to do a widespread vaccination if we were to choose that path," Sifford said.

"We would be looking at a very specific targeted potentially geographic- and species-oriented that maybe focus on certain turkeys in a certain area. These are the country scenarios that we have been talking through," she added.

Regionalisation and compartmentalisation per farms or species are allowed under WOAH rules and often reduce the risk of having country-wide trade barriers.

Turkey meat is expected to account for about 10% of total US poultry production in 2023 and exports are expected to account for about 7% of total turkey production, USDA data showed. In contrast, exports of chicken meat are estimated at about 16%.

Sifford sees "no positive impact" in vaccinating chickens since they have a short lifespan.

"For us, turkeys have been the species most affected in terms of facilities," she said.

The National Turkey Federation, which represents US farmers and processors, supports the development of a vaccine, its president said.

The USDA said in November that more 70% of commercial poultry farms affected in the 2022 outbreak were turkey farms.

The USDA told Reuters on Friday that it continued to research vaccine options against avian influenza to "protect poultry from this persistent threat" but still considers biosecurity measures to be the most effective tool for mitigating the virus.

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