Reform of social security programs is often referred to as the “third rail” of American politics, in reference to the electrified high-voltage third rail used to power subway trains. Because of the reaction of trading partners, vaccination has become the “third rail” when it comes to avian influenza control, but it shouldn’t be.

In a webinar hosted by WATT Global Media, Dr. Leslie David Sims, a consultant with the Asia Pacific Veterinary Information Service in Australia, said that attitudes are changing at the international level regarding the use of vaccination for some World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)-recognized foreign animal diseases, like foot and mouth disease, and that it might change for avian influenza as well. He said that the potential problems associated with vaccination for avian flu control are often overstated relative to the benefits, and that the problems can be managed.

Concerns over how to distinguish infected from vaccinated are common, but technologies now exist for differentiating infected from vaccinated animals (DIVA). Sims said that vaccination programs need to be judged against their objectives.

Dr. David Swayne, laboratory director for the USDA ARS Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, said, “In the developed world, consumers are increasingly demanding free-range and pasture-raised poultry products. However, the increased outdoor access could raise the risk of exposure to wild birds and the avian influenza virus.”

Swayne said more outdoor access will require farmers to establish stronger health monitoring and surveillance programs, especially during times when migratory birds are likely to pass over the farm. He said that the poultry industry will need to consider vaccination against avian influenza and other diseases as a way to protect the health of birds with outdoor access.

I think that, if the market for pasture-raised poultry meat and eggs helps to drive international acceptance of vaccination as an avian influenza control measure, then this backwards step in husbandry will have served at least one useful purpose.