• Bird flu has killed hundreds of millions of birds, mammals.
  • WOAH head said that vaccinating birds helps to control the virus.
  • Countries have shown reluctance to adopt bird vaccines.
  • The vaccine should focus on free range birds – WOAH boss

Paris, May 21, 2010 The head of the World Organization for Animal Health says governments must provide vaccines against bird flu, which has killed hundreds of millions of birds and infected mammals around the world, to prevent the outbreak from turning into a new pandemic. (Wah) he said.

The severity of the current avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, and the resulting economic and personal damage have led governments to reconsider poultry vaccination. However, some, like the US, are still reluctant because of the trade restrictions this entails.

“If every country realizes that the pandemic hypothesis is real, we will come out of the COVID crisis,” WOAH executive director Monique Eloit told Reuters in an interview.

“Almost all countries that do international trade are now infected with the virus, so maybe it’s time to discuss vaccination in addition to systematic killing, which is probably the main tool (to control the disease),” she said.

Paris-based WOAH is holding a five-day general meeting starting Sunday, and will focus on global control of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI.

A WOAH study shows that 25% of member countries receive HPAI-vaccinated poultry imports.

The EU’s 27 member states agreed last year to implement a bird flu vaccine strategy.

In the year France is poised to become the first EU country to launch a vaccination program from ducks, which has already offered to pay the poultry industry around one billion euros ($1.10 billion) in 2021/22 for massive damage.

“Now it is our responsibility to use other tools, such as vaccines. And this is for animal health, public health, but also to respond to the problems of society,” said French Minister of Agriculture Marc Fesneau at the start of the WOAH general meeting.

Eloit said the EU’s move to vaccination could inspire others to follow suit.

“If a big exporter like the EU starts moving in that direction, it will have a ripple effect,” Eloit said.

“To leave no stone unturned in the fight against HPAI, USDA continues to strengthen vaccine options that can protect chickens from this persistent threat,” the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told Reuters on Friday.

However, he still considers biosecurity measures the most effective tool to prevent the virus in commercial herds, he said in emailed responses.

The risk to humans from bird flu is low, but countries must prepare for any potential changes, the World Health Organization said.

Eloit said that because bird flu is transmitted by wild birds that migrate, vaccination should focus on free-range animals, especially ducks. Vaccinating chickens, which account for 60% of the world’s poultry production, makes little sense, she said.

In the current HPAI outbreak, the H5N1 strain has been found in many mammals and has killed thousands, including sea lions, foxes, otters and cats.

($1 = 0.9084 EUR)

Reporting by Sybil de la Hamide; Editing by Hugh Lawson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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