Vaccination against avian influenza could be a tool in controlling avian influenza in future, alongside good biosecurity, but there are many barriers to overcome before it may be used.
One of the most significant barriers is likely to be the cost. “If you carry out vaccination, you have to carry out expensive surveillance,” the British Poultry Council’s Máire Burnett told the South West Chicken Association conference.
As an example, France has estimated surveillance alone could cost €300m a year for all poultry to be vaccinated – though it is likely only longer-lived types of poultry would be.
As the UK would most likely have to align with EU rules, it is understood policymakers are expecting a similar cost to a domestic surveillance programme.
There is then a cost/benefit consideration. “Who’s going to take up a vaccine programme if it’s going to cost this much,” she questioned.
Another major challenge to overcome is trade, with genetic stock particularly important. “The UK is a global hub for high-value breeding stock.”
More than 70% of poultry consumed globally ultimately derives from UK stock, said Ms Burnett, a sector worth just over £100m annually.
“If we’re unable to trade because of vaccination, that could be the end of those exports.”
Despite the challenges, Ms Burnett said vaccination could prove a tool as part of broader disease management and looking at its viability demonstrated the sector was trying to get AI under control.
She also called on the government to ensure the APHA was properly resourced. There is a shortage of vets, and if an AI season coincides with another outbreak, such as African Swine Fever, the agency could struggle to cope.
Ms Burnett also highlighted a recent change to secondary cleansing and disinfection policy.
Farmers who opt for so-called ‘option 2’ cleansing and disinfection following an outbreak, to WOAH standards, can now re-stock after three months and 21 days, where previously it was 12 months.