For an effective avian influenza (bird flu) vaccination programme, the vaccines must be used as an additional layer of protection on top of existing biosecurity measures, not act as a replacement.

This is according to the International Egg Commission’s (IEC) new paper, which examines the considerations and essential components required for bird flu vaccination programmes.

The paper, entitled ‘High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza in Layers: Considerations and Essential Components for Vaccination and Surveillance‘, aims to help countries looking at vaccination as a means to combat the disease to understand the conditions required to implement a vaccination programme.

The global egg industry representative said the paper was needed because “of the continuous threat that high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) poses to the global egg industry and wider food supply chain”.

Other components of an effective bird flu vaccination programme, according to the paper, are:

  • A national or regional vaccine bank;
  • Use of only high-quality vaccines to produce a robust immune response to different strains;
  • Vaccine testing in birds under field conditions;
  • Updating of vaccine antigens should not require a full re-registration of vaccines. A cassette system should be used to allow vaccines to be updated;
  • Vaccines should be administered in line with manufacturer’s instructions;
  • Individual birds should be given the correct number of doses over their lifetime, usually a minimum of two;
  • Vaccinated flocks should be monitored regularly for immune response to vaccination;
  • The programme’s effectiveness should be continually reviewed.

The IEC said the paper, developed by its avian influenza global expert group, explains “very clearly the advantages of vaccination against the disease, as well as ways to overcome potential barriers to vaccination”.

Discussing the development of the paper, chair of the avian influenza global expert group Ben Dellaert said: “The potential for vaccination to play a role in HPAI prevention and emergency management in layer hens has been discussed widely in recent months, as the global poultry industry continues to face unprecedented levels of avian influenza.

“The development of this new paper will support countries considering vaccination, as an additional tool for prevention and emergency management of HPAI in layer hens, to establish and implement a successful vaccination and surveillance strategy.”

As well as defining the essential components of an effective bird flu vaccination programme, the new paper also explores how to conduct infection surveillance within vaccinated flocks.

This will allow for continued trade of poultry and poultry products as stipulated by the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Terrestrial Animal Health Code.

“Alongside robust biosecurity, vaccination can be an important additional tool for preventing and managing HPAI,” Dellaert said.

“I would like to thank the members of the avian influenza global expert group for developing this important paper which will support countries to implement effective vaccination strategies to protect our industry from the devastating consequences of HPAI.”