March 2006


Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, in announcing this week that the UK was not immediately planning to vaccinate poultry if bird flu reached Britain (report, Feb 28), admitted that bird flu would probably become endemic here. This implies that we will have a long-term problem of how to manage successive outbreaks of the flu over a five to ten-year period, if not longer.

Apparently, currently available vaccines in the UK may not be completely effective and are too costly to administer. However, there have been considerable improvements in the quality of bird flu vaccines produced by the new “plasmid-based” technology, originally developed in the UK. Such vaccines have been manufactured in China and used to vaccinate millions of chickens rather than cull them. Although labour costs are different in China, we need similar high-tech flu vaccines as one way of protecting the poultry industry.

The Government should pay for vaccine manufacturers to stockpile vaccines. Similar vaccines should be developed for farm workers who are in contact with poultry. Surely, if the French decide it is economical to protect their foie gras industry by vaccination, there might be circumstances where vaccination is appropriate in the UK.

Sir William Dunn School of Pathology
University of Oxford