The ongoing bird flu outbreak is still not showing signs of stopping, so federal scientists are taking it upon themselves to develop a solution to the wide-scale problem.
Scientists are preparing to test the first vaccines in poultry against bird flu in years, as the Biden administration is eager to shift the U.S. strategy in countering the growing outbreak, CBS News first reported.
“The decision to proceed with vaccination is complex, and many factors must be considered before implementing a vaccination strategy,” Mike Stepien, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in a statement.
He added that they are currently discussing options and “soliciting input from many different industry stakeholders that would be impacted.”
It’s not clear if there are bird flu vaccines that work against clade 188.8.131.52b, the strain responsible for the current outbreak in the country.
However, there is an urgent need to find a solution after the USDA reported in January that about 58 million birds died amid the spread of avian influenza.
The current outbreak, dubbed the worst in U.S. history, has affected poultry farms in 47 states. The virus was also detected in wild birds across 50 states. The situation was so bad that egg carton prices shot up by 137% in a year. In December 2021, a carton of a dozen eggs was $1.79. By December 2022, the price jumped to $4.25 per carton.
As experts turn to vaccination as a potential fix, there are concerns that immunizing commercial birds would make it hard to export poultry products.
“What is the trigger point of when you might use vaccination? And that’s what they’re looking at. Is it so many birds in poultry farms in an area getting infected? Or is it a certain amount of economic loss? Or is it because a neighboring state has the virus in poultry, and you’re concerned? So there’s those are really the tough, tough questions,” poultry veterinarian David Swayne told CBS News.
In past outbreaks, vaccines got approved to control the situation. Poultry animals even receive vaccines for diseases like infectious bronchitis at present. Stepien explained that the process for new vaccines could always be expedited for emergencies.
While the bird flu outbreak is causing a health hazard among poultry animals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has only documented one case of the virus infecting a human. The patient contracted the virus after direct exposure to infected poultry. He only developed mild symptoms and recovered.
Health officials maintained the virus poses little threat to humans. Though highly contagious to birds, the virus generally does not infect humans.