The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has been preparing for the potential recurrence in the fall of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus that affected more than 48 million birds at more than 200 poultry facilities earlier this year. As part of these preparations, APHIS and its state and industry partners are examining the potential use of vaccine to help prevent illness in birds and interrupt the spread of the disease.
APHIS announced Aug. 18 two actions related to vaccine use: the issuance of a request for proposals for vaccine doses to equip the National Veterinary Stockpile, and notification that APHIS will publish an environmental assessment evaluating the potential environmental impacts of using vaccine in the event of an HPAI outbreak.
While APHIS has not approved the use of vaccine to respond to HPAI to date, the agency is preparing to ensure that vaccine is available should the decision be made to use it. APHIS is seeking to create a stockpile of vaccine for the Eurasian H5 (EA H5) virus strain that circulated in domestic poultry earlier this year. APHIS issued a request for proposals Aug. 17 for vaccine manufacturers with the interest and capability to supply a variety of EA H5 vaccines in sufficient numbers to establish the emergency stockpile.
Vaccines will be carefully evaluated on a number of factors including their efficacy against EA H5 viruses, and products must meet all of APHIS' safety, potency and purity standards. All eligible products to be considered must be either conditionally or fully licensed or permitted at the time of submission. Vaccine manufacturers will be evaluated on their ability to produce such vaccines in a timely manner in adequate numbers to meet the needs of the response.
In the coming weeks, APHIS said it will also publish an environmental assessment that examines the impacts of using HPAI vaccine in the field during an outbreak response. This assessment will look at two alternatives: approving vaccine use targeting EA H5 viruses or taking no action. Once published, the EA will have a 30-day public comment period.
It is important to note that these actions do not obligate APHIS to purchase vaccines from any companies that respond to the request for proposals and do not imply the agency has made a decision to use vaccination. A decision to use vaccination would require careful consideration of the efficacy of the vaccine, any impacts of using HPAI vaccine in the field, and the potential trade impacts, and would be made jointly by APHIS and state animal health authorities. Today's actions are being taken to ensure the agency and its partners are well-positioned to respond to a future outbreak.