Two-year trial of bird flu vaccines “too slow” say experts

A factory farm

Some 1,800 day-old chicks have been vaccinated against bird flu as a first step in a two-year trial to test the effectiveness of two vaccines but experts say the process could be speeded up.

Over seven million chickens, ducks and turkeys have been killed in the last two years as a result of the spread of the highly contagious bird flu virus, which experts fear has become endemic.

The trial, which will be monitored by Wageningen University, will run until 2025. The first results are expected in summer next year, the agriculture ministry said.

Virologist Thijs Kuiken said the trial is an important step forward but should be speeded up. “Ever since the bird flu jumped from poultry to wild birds the threat of contamination at poultry farms has been constant,” he told Nieuwsuur.

Kuiken said the situation serious enough to warrant a faster rollout of the vaccines. “The two vaccines that are being tested are commercial vaccines which are already being used to combat bird flu outside of Europe and have been shown to work.

“There is no reason why they couldn’t be used to vaccinate all poultry in the Netherlands,” he said, adding that the delay could cause many more millions of chickens and other poultry to die.

The agriculture ministry wants the testing to be thorough, Kuiken said, but there is also a fear that Dutch large-scale vaccination with a vaccine that has not been officially approved may affect export to other countries that are not vaccinating their chickens.

That fear is echoed by the Dutch union of poultry farmers. “If Belgium or Germany say, we don’t your vaccinated meat, we have a problem,” union chairman Bart-Jan Oplaat said.

Kuiken said the problem had to be seen in the larger context of intensive farming, not only of poultry but pigs and cattle. “This not only increases the risks of infectious diseases but also causes loss of biodiversity and contributes to climate change. So if we really want to do something we must work towards a systemic change instead of concentrating on isolated actions such as this.”

Figures from national statistics agency CBS recently showed that the number of big farms, known as megastallen or mega farms in Dutch, rose 3.7% between 2021 and 2022 and their number now totals 1065, despite government aims to reduce the scale of intensive farming.

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