Iowa company gets first USDA license for bird flu vaccine

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The first license to develop a bird flu vaccine has been awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a crucial step toward preventing another devastating outbreak like the one that led to the destruction of 48 million chickens and turkeys this spring.

The conditional license given to Ames, Iowa, company Harrisvaccines authorizes it to continue testing the vaccine's effectiveness and stand ready if the USDA gives the order to begin manufacturing. The license does not mean the vaccine has been approved for responding to the bird flu yet.

Here are some questions and answers about what the vaccine licensing means:

WHAT WAS DEVELOPED?

The vaccine targets the H5N2 virus that circulated earlier this year by using the genetic code of the virus to grow it in specialized cells, extract and purify it and formulate it into a vaccine. The company's process, licensed last year by the USDA for the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus that wiped out millions of pigs, eliminates the need to handle live viruses, making the vaccine safer.

Harrisvaccines will be able to update the vaccine quickly if the H5N2 virus mutates, as viruses often do. It's also detectable in poultry as a vaccine, which means trade partners can tell the difference between an infected animal and one that has been vaccinated, possibly preventing some countries from shutting off all U.S. poultry imports during another outbreak.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT?

Testing shows a single dose is 95 percent effective in adult hens and 93 percent effective in day-old chicks, Harrisvaccines Vice President Joel Harris said Monday. Testing continues on chickens and turkeys.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Another widespread outbreak could drive chicken, egg and/or turkey costs up higher than they already are. Egg prices more than doubled this year after about 10 percent of the nation's egg-laying chickens were destroyed by the H5N2 outbreak, while some cuts of turkey meat are expensive and in short supply.

WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT INVOLVED?

Vaccine development is part of the USDA's preparation plans should the bird flu virus return this fall as wild birds migrate south. The federal agency began accepting bids for vaccine development last month.

WHY DID THE COMPANY RECEIVE A CONDITIONAL LICENSE?

A conditional license is issued in circumstances where rapid development of a vaccine is necessary, allowing the company to continue research and prepare for rapid production if needed.

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History of bird flu outbreaks
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Iowa company gets first USDA license for bird flu vaccine
This undated handout image provided by Science and the University of Tokyo shows infectious particles of the avian H7N9 virus emerging from a cell. Scientists who sparked an outcry by creating easier-to-spread versions of the bird flu want to try such experiments again using a worrisome new strain. Since it broke out in China in March, the H7N9 bird flu has infected more than 130 people and killed 43. Leading flu researchers say that genetically engineering this virus in the lab could help track whether itâs changing in the wild to become a bigger threat. They announced the pending plans Wednesday in letters to the journals Science and Nature. (AP Photo/Takeshi Noda/University of Tokyo, Science)
Thomas 'Tom' Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), speaks during an interview in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 8, 2015. Government spending to fight the worst U.S. bird flu outbreak and compensate farmers for their losses will exceed the $410 million so far budgeted and may top a half-billion dollars, Vilsack said. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2009 file photo, chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa. Discovery of the bird flu on an Iowa turkey farm has raised serious concerns that the bird killer could find its way into chicken barns in the nation’s top egg-producing state and rapidly decimate the flocks that provide the U.S. with its breakfast staple. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Workers in protective clothing work at the Daybreak Foods Inc. hen farm in Jefferson County near Lake Mills, Wis., Friday, April 24, 2015. There are two avian flu outbreaks in Jefferson county. The virus is lethal to birds, but is not expected to be a risk to people or the food supply. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Workers in protective clothing work at a hen farm in Jefferson County near Lake Mills, Wis., Friday, April 24, 2015. There are two avian flu outbreaks in Jefferson county. The virus is lethal to birds, but is not expected to be a risk to people or the food supply. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Workers in protective clothing work at the Daybreak Foods Inc. hen farm in Jefferson County near Lake Mills, Wis., Friday, April 24, 2015. There are two avian flu outbreaks in Jefferson county. The virus is lethal to birds, but is not expected to be a risk to people or the food supply. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Indian workers spread disinfectant after an operation to cull chickens at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian workers spread disinfectant after an operation to cull chickens at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian health workers dump bags of dead chickens after a culling operation at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian health workers carry dead chickens in bags after a culling operation at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Dead chicken, right, lie at a poultry farm in Katmandu, Nepal, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. A Nepalese official said the government has banned the sale and transport of chicken and all poultry products in the capital city to prevent the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus. Agriculture Ministry spokesman Prabhakar Pathak said Thursday that the virus has been detected in several poultry farms in Katmandu and surrounding areas. No human casualties have been reported. (AP Photo/Bikram Rai)
In this April 13, 2014 photo provided by Kumamoto Prefecture, chickens are seen at a farm where H5 virus was detected in two birds on Sunday, in Taragicho, western Japan. The 112,000 chickens were ordered culled on Monday, April 14 after the two tested positive for a highly pathogenic avian influenza in the town. (AP Photo/Kumamoto Prefecture)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 photo, live chickens are kept in a cage at a wholesale poultry market in Shanghai. A spate of bird flu cases since the beginning of the year in China has experts watching closely as millions of people and poultry are on the move ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, the world's largest annual human migration. (AP Photo)
Ans Hermans throws her chickens in their air, releasing them after more than two months indoors, in Nunhem, south east Netherlands, Monday, May 1, 2006. The Netherlands' Agriculture Ministry lifted an order keeping all domestic poultry indoors, as fears over an outbreak of birdflu eased. (AP Photo/ Ermindo Armino)
Hens are seen inside a chicken farm in Baexem, south-east Netherlands, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. After two dead swans in neighbouring Germany had been preliminarily tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, the Dutch agriculture ministry Wednesday urged commercial poultry farmers to get their birds indoors as soon as possible as a protective measure to prevent an outbreak of bird flu. (AP Photo/John Peters)
Poultry farmer Vermeij feeds his chickens inside his chicken farm in Baexem, south-east Netherlands, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. After two dead swans in neighbouring Germany had been preliminarily tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, the Dutch agriculture ministry Wednesday urged commercial poultry farmers to get their birds indoors as soon as possible as a protective measure to prevent an outbreak of bird flu. (AP Photo/John Peters)
Ans Hermans throws her chicken in the air, releasing it after more than two months indoors, in Nunhem, south east Netherlands, Monday, May 1, 2006. The Netherlands' Agriculture Ministry lifted an order keeping all domestic poultry indoors, as fears over an outbreak of birdflu eased. (AP Photo/ Ermindo Armino)
Hens are seen inside a chicken farm in Baexem, south-east Netherlands, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. After two dead swans in neighbouring Germany had been preliminarily tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, the Dutch agriculture ministry Wednesday urged commercial poultry farmers to get their birds indoors as soon as possible as a protective measure to prevent an outbreak of bird flu. (AP Photo/John Peters)
A shelduck receives vaccination against Bird Flu at Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005. The zoo is believed to be the first in Europe to begin inoculation against the H5 strains of bird virus, including the H5N1 strain that has swept through flocks and killed at least 69 people since 2003. (AP Photo/Fred Ernst)
Hens are seen inside a chicken farm in Baexem, south-east Netherlands, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. After two dead swans in neighbouring Germany had been preliminarily tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, the Dutch agriculture ministry Wednesday urged commercial poultry farmers to get their birds indoors as soon as possible as a protective measure to prevent an outbreak of bird flu. (AP Photo/John Peters)
Dutch State Secretary Henk Bleker (C) puts on a mask during a visit to a turkey farm affected by a bout of the bird flu virus in Kelpen-Oler on March 19, 2012. All 42,700 turkeys at the farm will be slaughtered. AFP PHOTO / ANP MARCEL VAN HOORN netherlands out (Photo credit should read MARCEL VAN HOORN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chart shows the number of bird’s with bird flu since March; 2c x 3 inches; 96.3 mm x 76 mm;
This photo provided by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources shows chickens in a trench on a farm in northwest Iowa. Millions of dead chickens and turkeys are decomposing in fly-swarmed piles near dozens of Iowa farms, culled because of a bird flu virus that swept through the state's large poultry operations. (Iowa Department of Natural Resources via AP)
EAGLE GROVE, IA - MAY 17: A gate blocks the entrance of a farm operated by Daybreak Foods which has been designated 'bio security area' on May 17, 2015 near Eagle Grove, Iowa. Daybreak Foods is one of several large-scale commercial poultry facilities is Iowa reported to have been hit with a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza which has forced poultry producers to kill off millions of birds in an attempt to stifle the spread of the illness. A road leading up to the front of the farm has been closed to outside traffic with a checkpoint established. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Nick Wells puts eggs in a cooler at the Waveland Cafe, Friday, June 19, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. Restaurants are struggling to deal with higher egg prices and an inability to get enough eggs and egg products in the midst of a shortage brought about by a bird flu virus that wiped out millions of chickens on commercial farms this spring.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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