China to test H7N9 bird flu vaccine on poultry starting July

FILE PHOTO: Chickens are seen at a poultry farm on the outskirts of Hefei, Anhui province, November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Starting from July 2017 China aims to vaccinate its poultry against the H7N9 bird flu virus, six months ahead of the expected rise in cases within the industry. The program was announced by the Chinese Veterinary Medial Association this week and will target all species of poultry including broiler chickens, egg-laying hens, ducks, and geese.

The program aims to preempt the devastation caused by the virus last year where it was responsible for hundreds of human deaths and major damage to the industry. It will kick off in the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces of southern China with other provinces being allowed to opt in if approved by the local veterinary authorities. In addition, emergency vaccination may be used to combat sudden outbreaks.

The poultry vaccine was developed by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences’ Harbin Veterinary Research Institute. It will, in turn, be administered, monitored for side-effects and reported on to the central government by veterinary departments in the two regions.

A researcher at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute. Source:

The H7N9 virus was first detected in China in 2013. While the virus had little impact on birds, the human death toll spiked to at least 268 lives since October 2016. This led to authorities shutting down live poultry markets across the country and caused a slump in demand for eggs and native yellow-feather chickens which were usually sold in such places. In some places, the H7N9 even evolved to a more dangerous strain which killed egg-laying hens and prompted authorities to cull flocks in surrounding areas.

Vincent Martin, chief representative for the Food and Agriculture Organization in China supports the move. “It’s a tough decision.” he told Reuters. “If you start, you may have to do it for some time, it could be several years, with a robust post-vaccination monitoring system in place, especially in a country like China with a huge poultry population”

The vaccination program was initiated after lobbying from farmers struggling with the drop in business, however, not all business owners and experts agree with the move. They fear that vaccination would not help in eradicating the disease or prevent its spread, in the long run, instead, the vaccine may hide its pervasiveness.

China is currently the world’s second-largest consumer of poultry and third-largest producer of broiler chickens.