The Biden administration is reportedly considering a mass vaccination campaign for poultry to combat avian flu outbreaks that have killed millions of chickens and driven up the cost of eggs.
Outbreaks of the H5N1 virus have affected more than 50 million birds and spilled into animals like minks and sea lions, prompting fears that a mutation could pose a threat to humans and cause another pandemic.
The likelihood of that remains low. Humans lack the kind of cellular receptors that allow the virus to attack other species, though the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they are being vigilant.
The CDC sent virus samples to drugmakers that could form the basis of human shots, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
More immediately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering whether it is worth vaccinating farm birds for the virus alongside regular shots for pathogens like fowlpox.
It would be a complicated undertaking and could trigger trade bans, so the idea is not set in stone and the administration stressed it is one of several options on the table.
For now, the government is focused on safety measures to prevent transmission.
“There are a range of options the United States regularly considers when there is any outbreak that could affect the security and safety of the United States’ food supply,” the White House National Security Council told The Washington Times in a statement. “Right now, we are focused on promoting and enhancing high-impact biosafety practices and procedures. CDC continues to take outbreaks seriously and assesses the avian flu’s current risk to humans as very. The Department of Agriculture continues to respond quickly whenever the virus is detected among bird populations.”
Human cases mostly occur in persons who handle birds or come into close contact with them. There have been nine reported cases in humans globally since the start of the year, according to WHO.
An 11-year-old Cambodian girl died from the virus and her father got infected, though officials do not suspect human-to-human transmission and said that the strain is different from the one circulating in the U.S.