Nov 15, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – China's announcement today that it plans to vaccinate all of its poultry against H5N1 avian influenza would launch the country on the largest single immunization effort in history for any species, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official.
News of the vaccination plan came even as China reported two more poultry outbreaks, these in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
"China is trying to vaccinate all poultry nationwide," said China's chief veterinarian, Jia Youling, as quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP). "The fees will be covered by the government."
In a live Web forum, Jia said China raises about 14 billion birds a year and currently has 5.2 billion, according to AFP. The Ministry of Agriculture said the country is producing more than 100 million doses of avian flu vaccine daily, but some areas are reporting shortages, the story said.
China's vaccination plan is at odds with the FAO's typical recommendations.
"At this point we cannot say if such a massive program is either possible or advisable," said Joseph Domenech, FAO's chief of veterinary services, as quoted today in the New York Times. Such large-scale vaccination campaigns are usually recommended only for places where the H5N1 virus is endemic, such as parts of Vietnam and Indonesia.
Domenech told the Times he had seen no evidence that H5N1 is endemic throughout China.
In addition, the demands of such a project are immense because birds must be individually vaccinated and because most of China's poultry are in small flocks that roam free in individual households.
However, Domenech also said that if any country can accomplish such an ambitious campaign, "China can do it."
The two latest avian flu outbreaks are in the counties of Zepu and Urumqi in Xinjiang, AFP reported. They were said to be China's 10th and 11th outbreaks in the past month. None of the other recent cases have been in Xinjiang.
The flu cases were discovered Nov 9 and confirmed yesterday, according to AFP. The story said 6,547 chickens were infected, of which 2,747 died, and 320,000 more were killed to contain the disease.