After security measures against avian flu were lifted in Great Britain in August 2022 the outbreak has continued to affect farmers and their stocks. In October the BBC reported that farmers were calling for the inclusion of vaccination in the response strategy. One man in particular, Mark Gorton, has experienced severe loss to his stock. His demand for vaccination has prompted a response from official sources, indicating that discussions are taking place. 

The latest on the outbreak 

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that the “risk of incursion” of highly pathogenic (HPAI) avian influenza H5 is now “high” in wild birds across Great Britain. The risk to “poultry with stringent biosecurity” has been increased to “medium” but for poultry with “suboptimal biosecurity” is “high”. Responsive measures give weight to DEFRA’s indication that this is Britain’s largest ever outbreak. 

On 24th October 2022 HPAI H5N1 was confirmed at several locations. This means that a 3km Protection Zone and a 10km Surveillance Zone must be declared around the premises. Furthermore, “all poultry on the premises will be humanely culled”.  

Calls for shots 

Mark Gorton is the managing director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry. He described the strain of flu as “extremely virulent and infectious”. The BBC suggested that 6 of the Norfolk outbreaks were on farms that Mr Gorton runs. He describes losing 100,000 birds, around 10% of his stock.  

“We’ve never known it as bad as this” 

Although it is usually expected to “die out over the summer”, Mr Gorton indicated that it is “actually getting worse”. Despite best efforts, security measures are proving ineffective, and Mr Gorton wants to be allowed to vaccinate his birds.  

“There are vaccines available, but unfortunately it is legislation that is preventing us from using them.”  

Official position 

Mr Gorton suggests that “vaccination is the only solution”. However, Richard Irvine, the UK’s deputy chief veterinary officer, said it is “not part of the disease policy and approach”. Instead, he and colleagues hope that “scrupulous biosecurity” will protect birds from the flu. One issue with the vaccine is the closeness of a match with the virus in circulation.  

Mr Irvine implied that there are “international” conversations being held about the use of vaccines against bird flu. There is more work to be done to provide “answers from the science” at an “international level” to ensure that vaccination is the best course of action. However, these discussions take place while farmers continue to suffer huge losses.  

We will discuss avian influenza during the veterinary sessions at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington next year. To join us, click here for tickets.