State bird flu toll hits 6.7 million. Some look to vaccines as a solution

Nov. 30, 2022, 3:37 p.m. ·

A laying hen in on an egg production farm. Photo Courtesy Adobe Stock.

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Over 6.7 million birds in Nebraska have died this year due to bird flu. Massive outbreaks in the state have continued late into the year, putting a spotlight on a solution that has long been sidelined – vaccinations.

Vaccines for bird flu have been around for decades, said University of Nebraska Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Don Reynolds. He said other countries like Mexico and Pakistan have used bird flu vaccines since the 1990s to protect their flocks. However, no vaccines to protect against high-risk bird flu has been approved in the U.S.

Reynolds said there are several reasons the U.S. doesn't use vaccines. At the national level, trade barriers and politics often get in the way. Critics are also concerned about the effectiveness of the vaccine, which makes the disease milder but does not eliminate the spread.

The interference of wild birds is also a factor. Even with widespread vaccination, bird flu would still circulate in wild goose and duck populations.

“We have wild birds that are spreading it all over. So, we can't vaccinate or depopulate all the wild birds,” he said.

However, Reynolds said it may be worth taking a second look at vaccines amid this year’s outbreak. Massive numbers die as entire flocks are depopulated, as was the case in the recent outbreak in Dixon County, which affected 1.7 million birds, . Reynolds says that vaccination may allow farmers to save part of their flock.

“Some say, let's just stamp it out,” Reynolds said. “Other people say, oh, wait a minute. You know, if we protect the birds, we don't have to destroy the birds.”

The CDC reported bird flu has killed over 52 million birds nationwide as of Nov. 30.