To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what progress his Department has made in developing a vaccine to protect against avian flu.
22 July 2022
Defra’s objective in tackling any outbreak of avian influenza is to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible from the UK poultry and captive-bird population and regain UK World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) disease-free status. Defra’s policy on vaccination is set out in the Notifiable Avian Disease Control Strategy for Great Britain (www.gov.uk/government/publications/notifiable-avian-disease-control-strategy) and in separate guidance on GOV.UK (www.gov.uk/government/publications/avian-influenza-bird-flu-vaccination/avian-influenza-bird-flu-vaccination). Outside of zoos, the vaccination of birds as an immediate disease control response is not currently permitted. Swift and humane culling of birds on infected premises coupled with good biosecurity including the separation of poultry and other captive birds from wild birds and disease surveillance remains the most effective means of controlling the disease.
Commercial avian influenza vaccines are available; however, these vaccines are unlikely to provide full protection for the current strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza circulating in the UK and continental Europe, or cross-protection to other strains which may circulate in the future. At present, vaccination can help to reduce mortality, but it is likely that some vaccinated birds would still be capable of transmitting avian influenza if they became infected. This would increase the time taken to detect and eradicate the virus.
In addition, there are a number of practical, animal welfare and commercial disadvantages relating to the use of currently available vaccines which would present significant logistical and cost challenges to industry. These vaccines need to be delivered by individually injecting each bird and, since it is difficult to differentiate infected from vaccinated birds, this leads to issues relating to exporting poultry and their products to other countries.
Current policy is in line with international standards of best practice for disease control. It reflects our experience of responding to past outbreaks of exotic animal disease.
Defra continues to invest in avian influenza research and last month launched a new consortium, led by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, to fund research to help us prepare for future outbreaks. In addition, we continue to monitor the current situation both in Europe and globally, as well as the effectiveness of any disease control measures taken, including vaccine development. Any future decisions on disease control measures, including the use of vaccination, will be based upon the latest scientific, ornithological, and veterinary advice.