Bird flu outbreak continues to wreak havoc, and experts are seriously considering vaccination as a solution

The ongoing outbreak of bird flu, or avian influenza, is causing concern among experts due to the virus's ability to leap from birds to cows and recent infections of two humans. While H5N1, the strain of avian influenza currently circulating, poses little threat to people, the virus's spread among livestock could lead to a potential human pandemic.

The outbreak has led to the deaths of over 90 million poultry birds from 48 states in the US and has been fought using three main strategies: killing entire flocks of chickens and turkeys at the earliest sign of infection, surveillance of the virus's movement, and improving biosecurity measures. However, this approach has thus far failed to curb the spread of bird flu.

Given the record-shattering infection rates among poultry and the unprecedented recent spillover to a wide range of other species, some bird flu experts and wildlife researchers are calling for renewed efforts to develop, test, and deploy a vaccine for poultry and potentially other species. Effective bird flu vaccines for poultry have existed for years and are even used routinely in other countries. However, the US has yet to adopt vaccination as a disease control strategy.

While the Department of Agriculture has reported promising results from clinical trials of several vaccine candidates, a slew of logistical, political, and economic challenges may prohibit their use. Some experts are concerned that the USDA is not making enough progress in developing and deploying a vaccine for poultry.

Challenges include disagreements with trading partners and the potential to import infected poultry, differentiating infected from vaccinated animals, and the logistical challenge of administering the vaccine to flocks of chickens and turkeys. Ultimately, the decision to implement a vaccination strategy for bird flu will rely on scientific, political, and economic factors.

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