A shot against bird flu will soon be allowed by Brussels, but there is no vaccine yet

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Animals may receive a shot against bird flu from the European Commission. Vaccination is allowed from March 12, but no vaccine is available yet.

Vaccination has been under discussion for some time, especially since the massive global outbreak of avian flu that began in 2021. Since the 1990s, the EU has had a non-vaccination policy for bird flu and a number of other animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

Trade barriers to countries outside the EU played a role in establishing that non-vaccination policy, as did the argument that vaccination was more expensive than culling in the event of an outbreak. Due to long-term and large-scale vaccination, the diseases did not occur on a large scale for a long time in earlier decades.

The new bird flu epidemic changed that. The highly contagious H5N1 variant has been plaguing farm and wild birds since 2021, but sometimes also mammals. Between October 2021 and September 2022, there were more outbreaks than ever in 37 European countries, resulting in 50 million birds killed.

Worldwide, more than 200 million birds died in 2022 due to the disease. This makes it one of the largest bird flu epidemics ever. In some rare cases, the disease has also spread to humans.

‘Highest priority’

Due to the enormous epidemic, the non-vaccination policy is no longer tenable. That is why the Commission is coming up with special rules for vaccination against bird flu, European Commissioner Kyriakides (Health and Food Safety) has announced.

The rules should help to control the disease and prevent its spread. “In light of the most serious outbreak in recent history, the fight against bird flu has the highest priority. This outbreak is causing enormous damage to the agricultural sector and disrupting trade,” says the European Commissioner.

The new approach should also make it possible to transport vaccinated animals and meat products from those animals. Member states must coordinate their policies so that no regional differences or trade restrictions arise, the European Commissioner emphasized. Those trade barriers between different EU countries are still there today.

Vaccines are being developed in the Netherlands and abroad. Last year, Wageningen University started a vaccination trial. The investigation has been completed, but the results are still being processed.

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