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Why don't we vaccinate birds against avian flu? The USDA says it's complicated

While the USDA said vaccination is among the measures that should be considered to protect bird populations, the department tells us an avian flu vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
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Posted at 2:33 PM, Feb 15, 2023

A viewer named Shannon reached out to Denver7’s The Follow Up asking about vaccines as a method of protecting bird populations from the avian flu epidemic that caused egg prices to soar in recent months and put a strain on customers and businesses alike.

Shannon’s inquiry came in response to a recent story about a Colorado falconer that lost a beloved bird to the avian flu.

Colorado falconer warns other bird owners after beloved falcon dies of avian flu

We reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get an answer.

While the branch of the USDA that oversees plant and animal health said vaccination is among the measures that should be considered, the department tells us an avian flu vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

“There are several avian influenza vaccines that are licensed by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB),” the agency wrote in an email. “However, the efficacy of these vaccines against the prevailing HPAI strain is unknown and they are currently not being used in the United States.”

The USDA also provided some numbers that help bring context to the vaccine approval process.

  • There are 20 stages of approval for animal vaccines, from “feasibility work” to label review.
  • That approval process can take as long as two-and-a-half to three years, though it can  be expedited in some emergency cases
  • National Environmental Policy Act requirements can add up to a year to the approval process for live, genetically modified organisms

In short, the decision of whether to vaccinate is complex.

“Many factors must be considered before implementing a vaccination strategy,” the USDA said. “APHIS has initiated discussions with and is soliciting input from many different industry stakeholders that would be impacted by a vaccination strategy for U.S. poultry.”

The USDA added that APHIS also continues to coordinate with CDC on matters related to human health.

As for egg prices, there is some good news.

Average wholesale egg prices have dropped considerably in the last six weeks, causing them to fall to their lowest levels in 10 months, according to USDA figures.

According to the agency, the average wholesale cost of a dozen large eggs has dropped from a high of $5.38 on December 30 to a current average of $2.73 for a dozen.

The figures from the last week meant the wholesale price of eggs has dropped to its lowest level since April 2022.


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