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Potential challenges with the USDA testing bird flu vaccines

A red-winged black bird perches itself on a sign at Duck Park in Alpena as the breeze picks up speed.
Zipporah Abarca
A red-winged black bird perches itself on a sign at Duck Park in Alpena as the breeze picks up speed.

As of June 28, the United States has had 58,789,591 poultry affected by avian influenza across 47 states.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all 50 states within the U.S. have detected the disease in 7,105 wild birds.

As the issue grows, the United States Department of Agriculture has reported the beginning of vaccine trials for highly pathogenic avian influenza as of May 1.

The department said there are currently four vaccines for the bird flu, but none are applicable to the highly pathogenic strain.

The USDA began testing in April with single-dose trials in efforts to develop a new vaccine for HPAI. Results from these trials were expected to be available in May, as well as a two-dose vaccine study with results in June. However, there have been no official reports from the USDA since.

HPAI is likely to have come from wild birds and poultry operations that have also been shown to affect mammals that have preyed on infected birds such as mountain lions and coyotes, the CDC said.

According to NPR of Kansas City, if a vaccine for HPAI is developed and effective, this could create more issues. It could become difficult to detect symptoms of the disease among vaccinated poultry. Deaths would become less likely, but the disease would still be prevalent.

The article said other countries may refuse U.S. poultry due to the vaccines. President and CEO of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council Greg Tyler said 20% of broiler chickens produced in the U.S. are exported. Therefore, almost a $6.2 billion worth of poultry exports would be lost.

NPR said the U.S. could also experience some other costly challenges. If it became more difficult to detect the disease in birds, it would be necessary to allocate funding for testing and surveillance.

Jada Thompson, an economist at the University of Arkansas, said U.S. consumers should expect to pay more for chicken, turkey or eggs if poultry were to be vaccinated.

The USDA’s vaccination trials should finish in August. NPR said a vaccine could possibly be available within 18-24 months.