ANPKhens in a poultry farm
For the first time, Dutch chicks have been vaccinated against bird flu outside the laboratory. This concerns a two-year field trial involving a total of 1,800 chickens on two poultry farms. Experts call it an important step in the fight against the bird flu virus, which has been in the Netherlands for more than two years. But they also wonder: couldn’t it be done a little faster?
Nearly 7 million chickens, ducks and turkeys have been killed in the Netherlands over the past two years to prevent the spread of bird flu. While the virus previously involved occasional outbreaks, it has acquired a permanent character in recent years. Experts fear that the virus will never go away.
One way in which the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality wants to prevent further spread is through vaccination of poultry. In March, the ministry reported that in a laboratory vaccine trial, two out of four vaccines tested were successful.
The field trial is now being carried out in the stables with these two vaccines. The trial will run until the end of 2025, with the first results expected mid-next year.
According to virologist Thijs Kuiken of Erasmus MC, it is an important step in the fight against the virus, which he calls an ‘acute threat’. “Since bird flu spread from poultry to wild birds, there is a constant threat of a poultry farm being infected with that virus.”
And so there is no time to lose, the virologist believes. As far as he is concerned, the vaccination campaign should be accelerated. “The two vaccines being tested are commercial vaccines that are already used against bird flu outside Europe and are effective. So they could already be used in the Dutch poultry flock.”
Poultry farmer Theo Bos also hopes that his chickens can be vaccinated quickly. Last year, all his chickens had to be killed after a bird flu infection.
Poultry farmers are interested in vaccination against bird flu
According to Kuiken, not only care in testing the vaccines plays a role, but also “economic arguments related to export”. He is referring to the fear that other European countries that have not yet vaccinated their chickens may be reluctant to import Dutch vaccinated products while the vaccine has not yet been officially approved.
A justified fear, says Bart-Jan Oplaat, chairman of the Dutch Poultry Farmers’ Union. “If, for example, Belgium or Germany say: we do not want that vaccinated meat, then we have a problem.”
To remove the hesitation of those countries, a special working group has been set up, says Oplaat. “He visits various countries to make agreements. Embassies participate in this, agricultural councils, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and of course we ourselves as a sector.”
Intensive livestock farming
Virologist Kuiken understands that the poultry sector wants to take the time to carefully carry out the vaccination trial and make agreements with export countries. “But in the meantime, millions of chickens and other poultry may die. As long as you do not vaccinate, those chickens will remain unprotected and you may still have to use the last resort, namely culling, to get rid of the virus.”
Kuiken adds that the bird flu virus that is currently circulating is the result of intensive livestock farming in general. “Not only chickens, but also pigs and cattle pose major problems, such as infectious diseases, but also biodiversity loss and climate change. So if we really want to do something about these problems, we should not stick this little band-aid on the wounds, but really realize a system change in our livestock farming.”