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USDA Approves Avian Influenza Vaccine

500 million doses of a Harrisvaccines drug will be prepared in case of another poultry flu outbreak.

Nearly 50 million U.S. turkeys and chickens have been lost to the avian influenza virus.

Scott Bauer/AVMA

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Chicken and turkey producers will finally possess a weapon in the fight against the deadly and highly contagious avian flu.

Harrisvaccines of Ames, Iowa, reported today that the company received the first conditional license of a vaccine targeting highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The virus has killed an estimated 50 million chickens and turkeys in the United States since the initial outbreak was reported this past spring.

The drug, Avian Influenza Vaccine, RNA, is not ready for distribution. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which granted the license, wants a stockpile of 500 million doses readied in time for the next outbreak, which could begin as wild birds migrate south for the winter.

“Although we cannot sell the vaccine today, we are in a better position to apply this robust and rapidly produced vaccine, if and when the virus re-emerges once again,” said Joel Harris, vice president of Harrisvaccines.

Another reason is that some countries are wary of buying the meat of vaccinated poultry.

“There’s concern that if we start vaccinating against avian influenza [now] our trading partners will stop importing meat from the U.S.,” Harris said.

Avian Influenza Vaccine, RNA is a single-dose injectable formulated for use in day-old chicks and adult hens. The duration of immunity against the H5N2 strain is unclear, but tests are underway.

The vaccine could be vital to stamping out a disease that has led to higher egg prices and billions of dollars in economic losses nationwide.

“The threat posed by avian influenza is extraordinary to both producers and consumers,” said Harrisvaccines’ founder and CEO, Hank Harris, DVM, Ph.D.

“Getting a vaccine in the field that matches 100 percent to the H5N2 strain is crucial to ongoing containment efforts,” he said.

Conditional licenses are intended to fast-track new drugs that meet an emergency or unmet need.

“The creation, testing and regulatory approval of the vaccine was a real joint effort by the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, the Center for Veterinary Biologics and Harrisvaccines,” said Mark Mogler, Ph.D., the company’s head of research and development.

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The vaccine displayed early proof of efficacy, safety and potency. Further studies could lead to full licensure.

Avian Influenza Vaccine, RNA uses SirraVax technology, which permits researchers to adjust the drug to fight future strains.

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