The Biden administration is considering the mass vaccination of the poultry population in response to an ongoing outbreak of avian flu that has killed off millions of birds and has helped spike egg and poultry costs.
There are some existing vaccines for farm birds, but U.S. Agriculture Department spokesman Mike Stepien told The New York Times that no vaccination effort has been authorized and the department is unsure if the existing vaccines will be effective against the current strain of H5N1 bird flu. Erica Spackman, a researcher for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, told the newspaper that scientists are researching new vaccine candidates to help curb the ongoing bird flu outbreak.
Thus far, the Biden administration has made no decision to impose a poultry vaccine mandate.
“There are a range of options the United States regularly considers when there is any outbreak that could affect the security and safety of the United States’ food supply,” the White House National Security Council told news outlets on Monday. “Right now, we are focused on promoting and enhancing high-impact biosafety practices and procedures.”
Instead of a bird flu vaccine program, many farmers have instead been culling millions of their livestock. At least 52.3 million birds were killed off throughout the United States in 2022.
“The Department of Agriculture continues to respond quickly whenever the virus is detected among bird populations,” the National Security Council said on Monday.
Bird Flu Risks
Bird flu can be deadly. An 11-year-old girl in Cambodia died last month after becoming infected with H5N1.
Bird flu can spread to humans through direct contact between a person and a farm bird or between a person and a contaminated surface. Bird flu contaminants can also spread through droplets or dust particles that a farm bird could kick up when it flaps its wings.
For now, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention assesses that the risk of H5N1 spreading to humans remains low. That said, disease researchers have heightened concerns over growing numbers of infections among wild birds and some mammal species and the possibility the virus could evolve to spread more easily between people.
By Ryan Morgan