Defra has today invited tenders to supply a further 10 million doses of avian influenza vaccine for potential use in poultry and other captive birds. The Government have decided to take this step, on the advice of the UK Chief Veterinary Officer, as a precaution.
This does not change our policy and the CVO's advice remains that we should not vaccinate poultry in advance of an avian influenza outbreak because of the well documented limitations of the vaccines currently available. These vaccines are not the most effective defence against avian influenza. A high standard of biosecurity, separation of poultry from wild birds and careful surveillance for signs of disease are the most effective means of protection.
The vaccine would also not be used as an immediate disease control response. Early reporting, rapid action, biosecurity, culling and surveillance remain the most effective ways of controlling an avian influenza outbreak.
However, the CVO has recommended securing access to a supply of vaccine. This is part of sensible contingency planning in the light of uncertainties about the future spread and nature of the virus and the possibility of as yet unforeseen circumstances. This will only be used if a risk assessment and scientific evidence indicated it would help to prevent disease spread.
In order to have a wider range of disease control tools available to us, we have tendered for vaccine which could be used against both H5 and H7 strains of the disease. It will not be available to the public for general use. This will be in addition to the 2.3 million doses of vaccine bought earlier this year for a possible risk based preventive vaccination of zoo birds.