Ceva, Harrisvaccines nab USDA contracts for bird flu vaccines

Less than three weeks after unveiling a multifaceted plan to prepare for a possible resurgence of avian influenza, the USDA has appointed Ceva Animal Health and Harrisvaccines to manufacture doses of vaccines for an emergency stockpile. The agency has not approved the use of any vaccine to respond to an outbreak, but it is preparing the stockpile in case a decision is made to do so, it said in a press release.

The USDA chose the two companies' vaccines based on their efficacy against "Eurasian H5" strains of the virus, the agency said. It was the highly pathogenic H5N2 bird flu that wiped out nearly 50 million poultry earlier this year.

Ceva and Harrisvaccines will have to manufacture a certain number of doses and store them for 5 years. They will also have to deliver them anywhere in the country within 10 days of any request, and test them regularly to ensure potency, according to the USDA. Ceva announced that under the contract, it will manufacture and store 100 million doses of its vaccine, called Vectormune AI.

In addition to stockpiling vaccines, the USDA said in September it was pushing for stronger biosecurity practices on farms, better detection of outbreaks and increased resources to prepare for a possible return of avian influenza. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has called for poultry producers to be more vigilant about risk factors such as sharing equipment between farms and allowing wild birds onto their properties.

Earlier this month, at a conference in South Africa hosted by Ceva, veterinarians traded tips on improving biosecurity and discussed various early-warning systems that might be implemented in countries vulnerable to avian influenza. A representative from the USDA who attended the gathering vowed that the country would be ready to mass vaccinate birds if necessary.

That said, vaccinating against avian influenza remains a controversial practice. While the vaccines can improve flock immunity, they don't guarantee complete protection against H5 strains.

- here's the USDA's press release
- read more at Reuters
- access Ceva's press release here