US is ’18 months or so’ away from finding bird flu vaccine, says agriculture secretary

By Leah Douglas

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is “18 months or so” away from identifying a vaccine for the current strain of bird flu and is developing a process to distribute it, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday.

USDA has found bird flu in 8 commercial flocks and 14 backyard flocks so far this year, affecting 530,000 poultry, according to agency data.

More than 81 million U.S. poultry and aquatic birds have been killed by avian flu across 47 states since January 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are probably 18 months or so away from being able to identify a vaccine that would be effective for this particular (avian flu) that we’re dealing with now,” Vilsack said at a Congressional hearing.

USDA plans to discuss poultry vaccinations with trading partners, amid concerns that other countries could restrict imports of vaccinated U.S. poultry, Vilsack said.

The World Organization for Animal Health in May said governments should consider bird flu vaccinations for poultry to prevent the spread of the virus from turning into a pandemic.

The U.S. government said last year that a decision by France to vaccinate ducks against avian flu will trigger restrictions on imports of French poultry.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)