China to Vaccinate All Its Poultry, With 5.2 Billion Flu Shots
By KEITH BRADSHER and ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: November 16, 2005
BEIJING, Nov. 15 - China's Agriculture Ministry said Tuesday that it would
inject all of the nation's 5.2 billion chickens, geese and ducks with a
vaccine against bird flu.
The campaign, disclosed by the official New China News Agency, would be the
largest single vaccination effort ever for any species, according to the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. It promises to be
logistically complicated, not least because it entails chasing and catching
billions of free-range birds. The Agriculture Ministry did not provide a
At any one time, China has about 4 billion chickens and 1.2 billion ducks
and geese, but even those numbers understate the size of the vaccination
task. The country consumes about 14 billion domestically grown chickens,
ducks and geese every year.
Dr. Qi Xiaoqiu, the director general of the department for disease
prevention and control at China's Health Ministry, said at a news conference
on Tuesday that three-fifths of the poultry in China was kept by families,
who let the birds and other domesticated animals wander around the
neighborhood and the yard and often through the house. Constant close
contact between animals and people is worrisome because birds and pigs can
carry the H5N1 bird flu virus and may transmit it to people.
"People raise pigs and people keep birds just like Americans keep dogs," Dr.
Qi said. "Those pigs and birds are part of the family. It is a kind of
self-sufficient, outmoded production method."
Dr. Qi also said it was "highly probable" that a boy and a girl who suffered
high fevers last month - the girl died - had been the country's first human
cases of bird flu. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao warned last week that China
faces a "very serious situation" as it seeks to control the virus.
Dr. Qi and Roy Wadia, a World Health Organization spokesman here, said there
had been no sign yet of human-to-human transmission of bird flu, a critical
ability the virus needs to develop if it is ever to cause a human pandemic.
In an interview at the same conference at which Dr. Qi spoke, an American
official who insisted on anonymity said before the Chinese announcement that
migratory birds were likely to spread flu to poultry in the United States at
Kristen Scuderi, the Agriculture Department's deputy press secretary, said
the United States had 40 million doses of bird vaccine in stock and another
30 million doses in production, which would be used to create a barrier zone
around an area with a severe outbreak. "The initial response is culling, but
if the outbreak was really egregious we might go into the stockpile," she
said. Some outbreaks have resulted in the deaths of millions of birds.
China reported 50 outbreaks of bird flu in 16 provinces last year, and has
reported 11 more to international health agencies this autumn, including 2
more small outbreaks reported on Tuesday. Poultry infections have been
especially severe this autumn in Liaoning Province.
The official New China News Agency reported last week that a fake flu
vaccine, possibly including active virus, may have actually spread the
disease instead of preventing it, although there has been no suggestion that
this occurred elsewhere.
"The harm is incalculable," said Jia Youling, the chief of the veterinary
department at China's agriculture ministry, according to the news agency.
China has also developed its own version of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug, and
is preparing to produce it in large quantities if a human pandemic occurs,
official news media said. There is no human vaccine against bird flu because
it is impossible to predict the form the virus will take if it develops the
capacity for human-to-human transmission.
Veterinary experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization's headquarters
in Rome said that more information was needed to assess the wisdom of
China's decision to vaccinate all poultry.
"With the recent multiplication of outbreaks in China they have now decided
on countrywide vaccination, but at this point we cannot say if such a
massive program is either possible or advisable," said Joseph Domenech,
chief of Veterinary Services. He added that if any country can carry out
such a program, "China can do it."
Bird vaccination campaigns involve a huge amount of manpower because the
animals must be injected one by one. The Food and Agriculture Organization
normally recommends such large-scale programs only in areas where the H5N1
bird flu virus has become endemic - places where it persists in the
environment and where culls and quarantines have proved ineffective.
Parts of Vietnam and Indonesia fall into this category, and widespread
vaccination programs have controlled flu among poultry in some areas. Dr.
Domenech said he had seen no evidence that this was true for all of China.
Bird vaccine has been widely available for several years. Costing merely 10
cents a dose and produced by a dozen manufacturers, it is nearly 100 percent
effective. China's Agriculture Ministry said Tuesday that it was producing
100 million doses a day, a figure that Dr. Domenech said was plausible.
The difficulty with the bird vaccine, particularly in Asia, is
organizational: Veterinary workers must go village to village and door to
door, since most poultry in this part of the world is kept on small farms
and in backyards.
In most parts of Asia, the vaccine is administered in endemic areas and in
areas surrounding outbreaks that have been controlled by culls. The vaccine
is also given to poultry in areas where wild birds are known to be infected.
The Chinese have given no indication that H5N1 virus is widespread in their
country, and have said that all outbreaks this autumn have been brought
The vaccine is not recommended for use in birds in Europe or North America,
as bird flu is still rare in Europe and has not been seen at all in the
United States. In such places, the preferred method for stamping out the
disease is culling birds for a radius of up to a few miles around the
outbreak and quarantining poultry in a wider area for several weeks.
"The vaccine may be appropriate in Asia, but our first response would
definitely be culls and quarantines," said Philip Tod, spokesman for the
European Union's health department.
In the last month, Europe has experienced its first outbreaks - in Turkey,
Romania and Croatia. All have been controlled in this manner. Mr. Tod said
no European governments are currently stockpiling vaccines because they can
be produced relatively easily and quickly.
Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing for this article, and Elisabeth
Rosenthal from Rome.