20 December, 2013, Rome – OFFLU, the joint network of expertise on animal influenza between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), organized a technical meeting on vaccination against Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) from 4 to 6 December 2013 in Beijing, China. A similar meeting took place in Verona, Italy in 2007, the recommendations from which are still mostly valid today. However, many of the countries participating in the Beijing meeting, in particular China, Egypt, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico, have since gained large amounts of experience in the field of vaccination against HPAI. Government representatives from those countries and participants from FAO and OIE as well as the International Egg Commission (IEC), the International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) came together to share and discuss the experience and progress made at national and regional levels in vaccination against HPAI. The members of the OFFLU Technical Activity on vaccination acted as the scientific and organizing committee for this meeting.
The overall aim of the meeting was to review existing recommendations and to build on these based on countries’ experience and lessons learned. Technical experts were invited to present on recent advances achieved in the vaccination field and to review the technical, social, economic, and political aspects of vaccination against HPAI. Several endemic countries have been implementing mass-scale vaccination of poultry which is a huge financial burden in the long-run and have subsequently moved to targeted vaccination. South Asian countries that face a high prevalence of HPAI H5N1 are considering the potential authorization of vaccine use. The use of protective and updated vaccines that match with circulating influenza virus strains is key in controlling and preventing the spread of avian influenza (AI). However there are many challenges to ensuring that protective vaccines remain constantly available on national markets. Findings from field trials regarding the use of vector recombinant vaccines that can be delivered to day-old chicks in hatcheries suggest these vaccines may have a role to play in vaccination of poultry against influenza.
Participants at the OFFLU meeting drew up recommendations for countries considering a vaccination programme, including the need for an overall control strategy that takes into account: (i) the positive and negative aspects of vaccination as a control tool against HPAI; (ii) the need for financial and human resources; (iii) the need to strengthen veterinary services at national and regional levels and to comply with the AI notification obligations to OIE; (iv) the political commitments required for a vaccination campaign; (v) the importance of defining the objectives of any vaccination strategy before implementation in a country or region; and (vi) the importance of regularly assessing and adjusting the vaccination strategy when necessary. These points, amongst others, were addressed during working group sessions when participants shared and compared their countries' experience of national vaccination situations.
While remembering that vaccination is one tool amongst others and should always be used in combination with other measures, participants discussed how to define a vaccination strategy (including an exit strategy) and how to assess the effectiveness of vaccines. They also elaborated a list of research needs for vaccines and vaccination, which will be shared during the OFFLU and Global Network for Animal Disease Research (STAR-IDAZ) workshop on a global research agenda in April 2014 at OIE headquarters in Paris.
The importance of collaboration between the private and public sectors was stressed on several occasions during the meeting. The public sector should be responsible for making the right decisions on registering vaccines and implementing effective vaccination policies. This is only possible with the full cooperation of private poultry companies and vaccination manufacturers and their openness to sharing data and experience. The OFFLU technical working group observed that it is crucial to have updated vaccines to match the occurrence of new strains of HPAI, while simultaneously ensuring that there are not too many vaccines on the market. Furthermore several experts noted that a fast-track process for the registration of vaccines would speed up access to effective vaccines. In order to assist governments in making the right decisions for maintaining updated vaccine strains, OFFLU suggested forming a permanent technical working group to advise on technical updates of vaccine strains.
A further outcome of the OFFLU meeting in Beijing is the planned publication of a practical handbook on vaccinating against HPAI. The publication will cover the planning, implementation, costing and monitoring of a vaccination strategy and will be intended for poultry farmers, poultry production companies as well as vaccine manufacturers.