The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answers on 5th November 2022:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government what international discussions they have had about supporting research into avian influenza vaccines.
Lord Benyon (Con): Defra continues to invest in avian influenza research and monitors the situation in Europe and globally. International collaboration and knowledge exchange is facilitated through discussions between the UK Chief Veterinary Officer and her counterparts in the EU and globally through the World Organisation for Animal Health. Both the UK CVO and representatives from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) avian influenza national reference laboratory were present and engaged in discussion with their global counterparts at the recent International Alliance for Biological Standardisation conference on High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) Vaccination Strategies to Prevent and Control HPAI held in Paris in October.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government why avian influenza vaccines are not permitted for commercial poultry.
Lord Benyon: Outside of zoos, the vaccination of birds as an immediate disease control response is not currently permitted. Swift and humane culling of birds on infected premises coupled with good biosecurity including the separation of poultry and other captive birds from wild birds and disease surveillance remains the most effective means of controlling the disease.
A limited number of commercial avian influenza vaccines are authorised for use in the UK; however, these vaccines are unlikely to provide full protection for the current strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza circulating in the UK and continental Europe, or provide cross-protection to other strains which may circulate in the future. At present, vaccination can help to reduce mortality, but it is likely that some vaccinated birds would still be capable of transmitting avian influenza if they became infected. This would increase the time taken to detect and eradicate the virus.
In addition, there are a number of practical, animal welfare and commercial disadvantages relating to the use of currently available vaccines which would present significant logistical and cost challenges to industry. These vaccines need to be delivered by individually injecting each bird and, since it is difficult to differentiate infected from vaccinated birds, this leads to significant trade issues relating to exporting poultry and their products to other countries.
Defra continues to invest in avian influenza research and monitors the situation in Europe and globally. In conjunction with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), Defra will continue to monitor the development and availability of vaccines for use to protect against avian influenza and as a control measure during avian influenza outbreaks, as they are put forward for marketing authorisation by vaccine manufacturers.