U.S. to Test Vaccine in Poultry as Bird Flu Deaths Rise

Feb. 10, 2023 — The Biden administration will test a vaccine that could be given to poultry to counter the current bird flu outbreak that has killed about 58 million birds, mostly in commercial poultry flocks.

These would be the first vaccine given to poultry to protect against avian influenza in years. Poultry are already vaccinated for diseases like infectious bronchitis, and shots have been licensed for past outbreaks.

“The decision to proceed with vaccination is complex, and many factors must be considered before implementing a vaccination strategy,” U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Mike Stepien said in a statement. Stepien said the USDA is “soliciting input from many different industry stakeholders that would be impacted.” 

The USDA reported this week that 58 million birds, mostly in commercially raised poultry, have died in the outbreak, either from the virus or because they were put down to prevent transmission within a flock. Every state has found bird flu in wild birds, and 47 states have found it in poultry flocks, including 18 states in the last 30 days, the USDA said.

In addition to domestic poultry, bird flu has been detected in mink in Spain, sea lions in Peru and now, in a Colorado mountain lion, black bear, and skunk, TheDenver Post reported. 

The CDC says the current outbreak of avian influenza (HPAI A(H5)) began in January 2022. That was the first time it was detected in the U.S. since 2016. 

The tests will help determine if the vaccines are a good match against the current strain of bird flu. Officials have been concerned that giving birds the vaccine could hurt American poultry exports. 

“What is the trigger point of when you might use vaccination?” poultry veterinarian David Swayne, a former USDA’s official, said to CBS News. “And that’s what they’re looking at. Is it so many birds in a poultry farm in an area getting infected? Or is it a certain amount of economic loss? Or is it because a neighboring state has the virus in poultry, and you’re concerned? So there’s those are really the tough, tough questions.” 

The bird flu outbreak is one of the causes of the increase in egg prices at the grocery store.

A man in Colorado who tested positive for bird flu is the only human case in the current outbreak, the CDC said. He recovered. Seasonal flu shots will not prevent infection from bird flu but can cut the chances of getting sick with human and bird flu viruses at the same time, the CDC says.

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