The growing importance of poultry vaccination as an essential tool in the worldwide battle against the H5N1 avian flu virus has been recognized by a major scientific conference held in Verona, Italy.

Some 400 experts reviewed the recent experiences and achievements of vaccination programmes carried out in many countries worldwide.  The conference was jointly organised by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (IZSVe), with the support of the European Commission.

With real vaccination successes now logged in countries such as Vietnam, Hong Kong and China, delegates agreed that, especially where the virus has become endemic, vaccination is the key to decreasing the amount of virus in the environment and thus reducing the risk of human infection and the threat of a possible human influenza pandemic.

The scale of Asian efforts to combat H5N1 was underlined by the Chinese delegation which pointed out that last year over 11 billion doses of avian flu vaccine were administered in China.

UK delegate Richard Sanders of the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm says it is encouraging that support for vaccination alongside the other measures of bio-security and stamping out is growing.  But there was general agreement that the currently available arsenal of avian flu vaccines was far from perfect.

Delegates agreed that urgent funding is needed from the international community for the following areas:

-Development of new and improved vaccines
-Development of new vaccines that combine protection against H5N1 with the control of other poultry diseases particularly Newcastle disease
-Design of cost-effective delivery systems particularly for small-holders and backyard farmers 
-Development of a vaccination decision making tree
-Data sharing of vaccination programs conducted under field conditions (as opposed to laboratory)
-Impact of vaccination on production, consumption and trade 
-Impact of mass culling programs on valuable poultry genetic material

By Richard Saunders, Elm Farm Research Centre