France orders third shot of bird flu vaccine for foie gras ducks

PARIS (Reuters) – France ordered that a third dose of a vaccine against bird flu be given to ducks in areas most at risk, citing “new scientific¬†evidence” as it aims to avoid a surge in outbreaks, the farm ministry said on Wednesday.

France raised the risk level of bird flu to ‘high’ from ‘moderate’ on Tuesday after new cases of the disease were detected, forcing poultry farms to keep birds indoors.

“New scientific evidence has led us to adjust the vaccination protocol to guarantee the best possible protection of animals and avoid any epizootic outbreak,” the ministry said in a statement.

“For this, a three-dose protocol will be applied from (this week) until March 15, 2024 in areas identified at risk and targeting mulard ducks,” it added.

Mulard ducks are used for foie gras.

France started vaccinating ducks in France in early October, for a total of 60 million ducks over a year, which were initially due to receive two shots each.

Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim, which has been selected to produce the vaccine, said the decision on a third shot was taken after post-vaccination monitoring showed a high potential for transmission of the bird flu virus circulating in France and a reduction in the immunity of ducks at 11 weeks of life.

“Given the unprecedented nature of the current campaign, it is normal for the vaccination strategy to be refined as field monitoring and additional research work are carried out,” Doriane Vadot, head of communications for Boehringer France, said in a statement to Reuters.

Four outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, have been detected since Nov. 27, the first ones this autumn, including three in Brittany in western France and one in the Somme in northern France, the ministry said.

These were all on turkey farms. There has been no outbreak reported among ducks so far.

By Nov. 19, 6.9 million ducks had received a first shot of bird flu vaccine and 3.6 million had received two.

Although the bird flu is harmless in food, its spread is a concern for governments and the poultry industry due to the devastation it can cause to flocks and a risk of human transmission.

The spread of the virus has led to the culling of hundreds of millions birds worldwide in recent years. It usually strikes during autumn and winter and has been spreading in many European countries over the past weeks.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Editing by Louise Heavens, Kirsten Donovan)