World animal health body wants more testing of African swine fever vaccines
The organisation says AVAC Vietnam JSC has not shared enough data with global researchers and bodies
HANOI/MANILA — The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) is warning that more testing of African swine fever vaccines is needed, triggered by Vietnam’s plans to export doses in coming months to fight a disease that ravages pig farms worldwide from time to time.
WOAH says AVAC Vietnam JSC, the producer of one of the two vaccines, has not shared enough data with international researchers and bodies.
Gregorio Torres, head of the science department at WOAH, urged countries interested in using AVAC’s vaccines to conduct their own trials before approving it.
In a world first, Vietnam in July authorised two attenuated live-virus vaccines against the disease, which is not deadly to humans but is extremely infectious among pigs and has repeatedly disrupted the global pork market, which data provider Research and Markets said was worth about $250bn in 2022.
In October, as AVAC was about to announce deals with importers of its vaccine in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Myanmar, the WOAH warned of risks “from use of substandard vaccines”.
Torres said Vietnam’s announcements led to the warning, but that it was not linked to concern about any particular vaccines.
AVAC says its vaccine is not dangerous and that widespread use will demonstrate it.
“We have proved our product is safe and effective and we need some time to prove that to all, including those showing concern,” said Nguyen Van Diep, the COO at AVAC.
He did not respond to questions about whether the company was sharing data with international researchers.
Diep said the vaccine was used safely in farms in 17 provinces in Vietnam since its approval and sales were rising.
Scientists at the US department of agriculture (USDA) discovered the AVAC vaccine, which was then developed in Vietnam because the virus is not present in the US. The agency did not have access to Vietnam’s trials data, said an agriculture department spokesperson.
“If somebody puts in the market a vaccine which is suboptimal, it will impact everybody,” Torres said, noting that it is harder to assess vaccines in countries with epidemics, such as Vietnam, because pigs could be infected by the attenuated virus in the vaccine alongside the wild virus.
Countries are eager for vaccines against African swine fever (ASF), which is incurable and has a high fatality rate, resulting in heavy losses for farms that become infected.
China has also developed several vaccines but none has commercial approval.
AVAC is producing 2.5-million to 5-million doses a month and plans to export 5-million, pending approval from the countries where the company signed commercial deals, Diep said. A green light from the Philippines might come early next year, he said.
NEW GLOBAL EVALUATION STANDARD
Torres said the agency was discussing a new global standard for evaluating ASF vaccines, with possible approval coming in May at the WOAH general assembly. The intergovernmental organisation, based in Paris, has 183 member states.
The standard would not be compulsory, as national regulators decide on approvals, but it could lead to trade restrictions against pork-exporting countries that vaccinate pigs with sub-standard shots.
The AVAC vaccine was trialled in the Philippines with 300,000 doses. The Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines, which is in charge of the vaccine approval, did not reply to requests for comment.
Philippines agriculture undersecretary Deogracias Victor Savellano told Reuters his country had not approved or purchased the vaccine yet, noting the regulator’s authorisation was critical to food security as the country faces a national emergency caused by the spread of ASF.
Regulators from India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia did not respond to requests for comment.
The second approved ASF vaccine, produced by Vietnam’s Navetco Central Veterinary Medicine from a USDA platform, had shared positive trial data and is being tested in the Dominican Republic, said the USDA.
Navetco did not reply to a request for comment.
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