Bird vaccination is necessary to bring the avian flu epidemic under control, experts concluded at an emergency meeting on vaccination strategies held last week by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, Italy. FAO is now advising governments in affected areas to initiate vaccinations, since the culling of millions of birds has failed to stop the disease from spreading.
The success of a vaccination programme depends to a large extent on careful monitoring of the vaccinated birds. This is something that worries Ilaria Capua, director of virology at the Veterinary Public Health Institute in Padua, Italy, who fears that poorer countries in southeast Asia may be unable to carry out such monitoring.
Until now, authorities have favoured culling over vaccination since vaccinated birds can still carry and shed the virus. However, the new strategy is hoped to reduce the viral load enough to bring the outbreak under control. The bird vaccine costs just a few US cents per shot, but a vaccination programme will still be expensive, since the number of shots could run into billions.
Reference: Nature 427, 573 (2004)