The UK government’s avian influenza vaccination task force has met for the first time today (Monday, 20 February) amid ongoing high levels of confirmed commercial cases.
Among the key stakeholders represented on the task force are the National Farmers’ Union, the British Poultry Council, British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), Game Farmers’ Association, British Poultry Veterinary Association, and the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.
The meeting will be co-chaired by Mark Williams, BEIC chief executive and a Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) animal health and welfare directorate, and will investigate issues such as vaccine efficacy, availability and barriers to international trade.
Aimee Mahony, NFU poultry chief adviser, said she would be interested to hear the latest developments of vaccine pilots that have been taking place in several European countries. She told Poultry World that she was encouraged that the task force included producers from the turkey, broiler and layer sectors, adding that it would be important to work the cost benefits of vaccinating birds.
Maire Burnett, British Poultry Council technical director, said avian influenza was now a global issue, affecting not just Asia, the United States and Europe, but increasingly South America.
Speaking in the margins of the Northern Broiler Conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Burnett said there had been bird flu cases found in Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, increasing the chance of it being found in Brazil.
“Vaccination is very much a global issue. The OIE does allow vaccination, but it doesn’t mean countries have to accept it,” she told Poultry World.
Among the key issues being addressed by the task force are international trade issues associated with vaccination, such as whether nations will accept breeding stock that have been vaccinated, the cost-effective nature of the vaccine, administering the vaccine, and which species should receive doses.
Burnett said it made sense to administer the vaccine to species that are bred over a longer time period, such as turkeys. She was also keen to hear of the results of French, Italian and Dutch vaccine trials.
Latest figures released by Defra show there have 172 confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 since 1 October 2022, with England (145) taking the brunt of the cases. The most recent commercial cases have been in North Yorkshire, Suffolk and Leicestershire.
British newspapers have reported that taxpayers shelled out nearly £42 million to compensate for bird flu last year in what has been the UK’s worst-ever outbreak.