Bird flu rages as Vietnam struggles with vaccinations

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Heath officials check ducks infected with the bird flu virus strain H5N1 in Tra Vinh Province before culling them. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Vietnam is losing the war on bird flu as vaccinations have not been administered early enough by local agencies that often wait until after outbreaks have occured, health officials said.
Regulations from the Animal Health Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development require ducks and chickens to be vaccinated at between 14-35 days old.
When outbreaks happen and the virus is already around, the vaccination won’t be effective, it said.
Phan Ngoc Chau, head of the animal health department of Long An Province neighboring Ho Chi Minh City, said in a Monday report by Tuoi Tre newspaper that the risk of bird flu can only be prevented when chicken and ducks are vaccinated from around 15 days old.
Chau said Long An is among the country's most vulnerable localities, but the vaccine supply from the Health Ministry is only enough for around one fifth of the province’s poultry.
Tran Trung Hien, director of the agriculture department of the Mekong Delta’s Tra Vinh Province, where more than 10,000 vaccinated poultry died recently due to the virus, said that either the shots were not administered correctly or the vaccinations could not create antigens during the outbreak.
Hien said vaccinations in the province were only really carried out after the authorities announced outbreaks. Before that, several farmers had vaccinated their birds but failed to follow instructions, he said.
Vietnam has been ravaged by the bird flu virus strain H5N1 since 2003. It has killed 65 people in what is one of the highest mortalities in the world, according to the WHO, including three deaths this year.
It has killed more than 63,000 fowls this year after breaking out in at least 23 cities and provinces, according to figures from the health and agriculture ministries.
Vo Ba Hien, head of the animal health department in the delta’s Dong Thap Province, said many duck farmers in the province avoid vaccination because it causes ducks to lay fewer eggs.
Hien also said it’s the harvest season at rice fields and ducks from other places have been brought over to feed on the leftovers. The huge increase in duck population has bankrupted vaccination plans, Hien said.
Nguyen Xuan Binh, director of the Animal Health Agency No. 6, which monitors animal health issues in Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan, Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc, Binh Duong, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre and Tay Ninh, said most of the poultry deaths in the Mekong Delta are due to vaccination problems – either when the birds were not vaccinated, or they were but not properly.
The vaccination standards include proper doses, at proper ages and with sterilized syringes.
Many families did not clean their vaccination needles and thus helped transmit the virus during the process, Binh said.
He said the recent outbreak in the delta’s Ben Tre Province revealed another problem with vaccination which is that the virus has mutated into forms resistent to the vaccine currently in use.
The province authorities have been asking farmers to inject their livestock with a new kind of vaccine that is also available.

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