Ceva urges mass vaccination against bird flu at global meeting

As the USDA prepares for a possible resurgence of avian influenza this fall, one company that makes a vaccine to protect birds from the virus is leading a discussion about the potential value of vaccinations. Ceva Santé Animale, which markets a vaccine called Vectormune AI, recently hosted a symposium in Cape Town, South Africa, to discuss the continuing threat of bird flu to poultry producers around the world.

"Many dogmas have grown up surrounding the control of avian flu. Countries who decided to vaccinate were viewed as the bad countries," said Yannick Gardin, director of science and innovation at Ceva, as quoted in a press release about the event. "This is no longer appropriate."

Mass vaccination was one of several ideas that were discussed during the symposium, according to Ceva. Andre Steentjes, a veterinarian and member of the European Union's Poultry Veterinary Study Group, suggested that countries vulnerable to bird flu also implement monitoring and early-warning systems, for example. Other attendees discussed improving biosecurity on farms and putting in place monitoring systems that would detect the virus in wild birds.

The USDA, which was also represented at the meeting, has spent the last several months rolling out its avian influenza protection plan. The virus has been found in 21 states, leading to the culling of 48 million birds and costing taxpayers $950 million. The agency's efforts this fall will be centered around improved biosecurity practices, quick detection of outbreaks and depopulation of infected birds.

The USDA has expressed an interest in supporting vaccine development, recently granting Iowa-based HarrisVaccines a conditional license for its vaccine, but the agency has not yet recommended mass vaccination. "We will be prepared to vaccinate if necessary," said Mark Davidson, associate deputy administrator of national import export services at the USDA, during the Ceva meeting.

There is widespread disagreement among poultry experts around the world as to whether vaccinating against avian influenza is necessary. Vaccines such as Ceva's can raise flock immunity and resistance to infection, but they don't guarantee complete protection against the virus.

Meanwhile, poultry producers in the hardest hit areas of the U.S. are bracing for a potential return of avian influenza. In Minnesota, where 5 million turkeys were lost to the illness, producers have still not completely restocked their flocks, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, predicts production won't return to normal until the end of the first quarter of 2016.

But waterfowl are starting to migrate south for the winter, and that's a concern, because they are believed to be carriers of the avian influenza virus. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed, my eyes crossed and my hair crossed that we miss this thing," Olson said.

- access Ceva's release here
- read more at the Star Tribune