The government yesterday opted for a compromise by approving the limited use of bird flu vaccine, while rejecting a mass cull of ducks.
Vaccines would only be used to immunise fighting cocks, domestic poultry, expensive birds and free-range ducks, while chickens and ducks raised for export would not be vaccinated.
Approval came during a three-hour meeting of the anti-bird flu committee chaired by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who last week put the talks on hold for a week to give him more time to prepare.
Deputy Prime Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng said the panel would conduct more studies concerning the timeframe for vaccinations and the types of vaccine to be used, and these should take no more than two months to complete.
A plan covering the use of vaccines on poultry to fight bird flu received a thumbs up from officials and international health organisations. However, the poultry industry opposed the plan due to concerns over the possible commercial impact on exports to markets where there is a high degree of sensitivity regarding health issues, particularly Europe and Japan.
Mr Chaturon, who chairs the committee, said that the decision in favour of a limited use of vaccines was based on studies from Hong Kong and the United States, which showed that giving birds two doses of vaccine could prevent bird flu and the spread of the virus to humans.
Vaccines would be imported and locally-produced, with Dutch producer Introvert tipped to be chosen, Mr Chaturon said. The Livestock Development Department would be responsible for local production.
However, since a vaccine for ducks has yet to be developed, the government would adopt a plan for the limited culling of ducks, Mr Chaturon said. Only infected ducks would be culled, instead of the original plan, which called for the mass slaughter of 2.7 billion ducks, which was strongly opposed by the premier. The import of vaccines would cost less than the five-billion baht budget required for a mass cull of ducks, Mr Chaturon said.
Although there was no guarantee vaccines would be able to completely eradicate bird flu, limited use of vaccines should at least help improve the situation, he said.
Mr Thaksin also approved the anti-bird flu panel's emergency plan to cope with the bird flu outbreak, which was also withdrawn from cabinet last week.
The decision to adopt the limited use of vaccines fell in line with recommendations at the meeting by Robert Webster, an avian flu expert from St Jude's Children's Research hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
He said the government should explore the possibility of using vaccine on poultry, but not on those raised for commercial purposes. He urged the government to design a clear strategy on when to stop using vaccines and a clear post-vaccination assessment plan. He suggested a one-year timeframe for the vaccine policy.