California condor

USDA has allowed the emergency use of a vaccine for highly pathogenic avian influenza to treat California condors.

More than a dozen of the large, critically endangered birds have died of the disease since March, and two are recovering at a rehab center.

Since February 2022, avian influenza has led to the death of 58 million U.S. poultry and has been found in more than 6,000 wild birds.

The vaccine is a killed, inactivated product USDA conditionally licensed in 2016. Because the vaccine has not been tested against the current virus strain in condors, the federal government will conduct a safety test in vultures before giving it to condors. The trial will begin this month in North Carolina.

Emergency use approval exempts a product from certain regulatory requirements for the purpose of controlling an animal disease. In this case, USDA said it acted because condors are critically endangered and have a tiny population.

USDA does not expect the vaccination of wild condors to affect poultry trade.

Agency researchers are studying options for vaccinating poultry against avian influenza, but commercial birds are not being vaccinated for the disease. Such a step would likely curtail the U.S.’ poultry export opportunities.

So far in May, avian influenza has been found in only one domestic flock — a small group of backyard birds in Indiana.