USDA moves to build vaccine stockpile for bird flu return

Chicago | Reuters — The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday it has put out a request for proposals to help the nation’s veterinarians have access to bird flu vaccines for poultry this fall, in preparation for the potential return of the fast-spreading avian influenza virus.

The agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has not approved the use of an avian flu vaccine in birds, USDA said in a statement. But the agency said it wants to create a stockpile of vaccine for the Eurasian H5 strain seen in the outbreak in the U.S. earlier this year.

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The call for proposals comes after the agency in July said it wanted to improve its handling of the nation’s worst outbreak of bird flu in poultry, after coming under criticism for its response to the outbreak that led to the culling of more than 48 million birds in the U.S.

John Clifford, the chief U.S. veterinary officer, told lawmakers that the agency wanted to stockpile vaccines for poultry ahead of autumn, though officials had not decided whether to use them.

APHIS also said on Tuesday it will publish an environmental assessment in the coming weeks that examines the impacts of using such a vaccine in the field during a response to an outbreak.

“This assessment will look at two alternatives: approving vaccine use targeting EA H5 viruses or taking no action,” according to the statement.

P.J. Huffstutter reports on agriculture and agribusiness for Reuters from Chicago.

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