Bird flu (avian influenza) vaccination task force

The task force will explore options and develop recommendations for the use of vaccination of poultry to prevent the spread of bird flu in the UK.

The avian influenza vaccination task force is a joint industry, cross government group set up to explore options and to develop recommendations for the use of vaccination of poultry as a preventative measure against highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the UK.

The group will consider the veterinary and scientific, llegislative and ppolicy, economic (cost benefit) and ppractical implications of a ppreventive vaccination policy in poultry. It will also identify any trade barriers and the value of exports that might be affected by the implementation of vaccination. Proposals for surveillance and husbandry types that might be suitable for vaccination will also be developed.


The UK is currently experiencing the largest ever outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) with unprecedented levels of infection in key poultry dense areas, in particular Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex but other areas such as Lincolnshire, Cheshire, Lancashire and North Yorkshire have also been affected. For the first time ever, the virus has ‘over-summered’ and the first peak of infection was several weeks earlier than usual. This has had a disproportionate impact on suppliers of seasonal geese and turkeys.

The current UK bird flu vaccination policy is to not permit the vaccination of birds (outside of zoos in England) either for disease prevention or as a disease control response. Stamping out remains the most effective means of controlling an outbreak but the unprecedented level of disease, impact on traditional and free-range systems, concern around the number of birds that need to be culled, and development of new vaccine technology mean that the development of effective vaccines are now a key priority for both government and industry.

Currently available vaccines have disadvantages in that although they are able to reduce mortality, it is possible that some vaccinated birds would still be capable of transmitting the disease if they became infected whilst not displaying symptoms. Many trading partners currently prohibit trade from countries that vaccinate for this reason. Without enhanced surveillance there are concerns that undisclosed disease could be circulating and this would increase the time taken to detect and eradicate the virus. There are also significant practical and cost issues with the deployment in longer lived birds.

Aims of the task force

The task force will be asked to address and make recommendations on:

  1. Legislative and regulatory issues
    • current legislative situation
    • changes required and minimum timescales to allow either emergency or preventive vaccination in the UK
    • authorisation of vaccines for use in the UK
  2. Information and research requirements
    • current knowledge and information from international trials
    • research and data gaps
    • identification of vvaccine trial work (including field trials) required to facilitate vaccination
    • funding options
  3. Effectiveness of vaccines
    • discussion and agreement on the minimum requirements for a vaccine to approved for use in UK. For example, efficacy, differentiating infected from vaccinated animals (DIVA), acceptance of genetically modified products, use across all species
    • vaccine availability and efficacy against the current HPAI H5N1 strain
    • process for monitoring efficacy and modifying and developing available vaccines
  4. Method of administration
    • understanding of how each vaccine is administered and how many doses are required to provide agreed levels of protection for each production type and species
    • practicalities of administration and training requirements
  5. Surveillance
    • minimum requirements for target markets
    • options and recommendations for surveillance – for example, active vs passive; blanket vs risk based; live sampling vs bucket sampling of mortalities; design prevalence and confidence levels
  6. Avoiding trade barriers
    • assessment of value of trade by sssector and by market
    • priority markets
    • review of current requirements and prohibitions by priority markets
    • strategy for engagement and role of government and industry
  7. Cost and benefits
    • assessment of the likely cost of vaccine per dose, cost of administration of vaccine, surveillance costs.
    • savings to government and industry
    • cost effectiveness of a vaccination strategy across a range of production systems. To include (but not limited to):
      • organic and free-range broilers
      • housed broilers
      • organic and free-range layers
      • barn and colony egg production systems
      • extensively reared geese, meat ducks, duck layers, free-range and housed turkeys, broiler, layer, turkey and duck breeders and grandparent and great grandparent stock
      • game birds * cost and responsibility sharing

The group will not directly consider potential food safety or public health risks from vaccination as these will be assessed as part of the regulatory and approvals process but any concerns, communication requirements or information gaps will be flagged.

Core membership

  • Chair – Defra and industry
  • National Reference Laaaaboratory and disease consultant
  • Exotic diseases policy lead – Defra
  • Exotic diseases policy – Wales
  • Exotic diseases policy – Scotland
  • Exotic diseases policy – Northern Ireland
  • Market access trade lead
  • Imports and EU Trade
  • Veterinary Medicines Directorate
  • Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)
  • National Farmers Union
  • British Poultry Council
  • British Egg Industry Council
  • British Free Range Egg Producers Association
  • British Veterinary Poultry Association
  • Game Farmers Association
  • National Office of Animal Health (NOAH)
  • National Farmers Union of Scotland
  • Secretariat - Defra Exotic Disease Control

Producer and industry advisory membership

  • free range producer in Scotland
  • enriched colony cage and broiler producer in Wales
  • vet, CVS and British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) consultant veterinarian
  • vet and British Poultry Council consultant veterinarian
  • vet and primary breeder representative
  • vet and broiler integrator
  • vet, broiler and turkey integrator
  • turkey integrator
  • ducks and geese producer
  • free range turkeys and broilers
  • free range layers and egg packer
  • 3 egg producers and packers
  • independent pullet rearer
  • specialist turkey breeder and producer
  • duck eggs and quail eggs
  • game farmer

The Task Force may decide to establish one or separate Task and Finish Groups to research and develop proposals and report back to the main group.


Governance and sign off of recommendations to ministers will be via the UK Animal Disease Policy Group. Vaccination policy is a devolved matter