Vaccines could be a viable option to protect poultry against deadly bird flu, as the country faces one of the worst outbreaks of bird flu in the last decade.

Supporters say vaccines could help keep poultry alive, prevent financial losses and control food costs, though shots would be too late to stop the current outbreak that has wiped out 22 million chickens and turkeys in commercial flocks since February.

Previously, the United States has eschewed vaccines, worried that importers will ban U.S. poultry shipments because they cannot distinguish infected birds from vaccinated ones. The United States is the world’s second-largest poultry meat exporter a major egg producer, with shipments reaching $4.2 billion in 2020.

However, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is investigating the potential for a vaccine that could be distinguished from the wild type of virus spread to poultry, Chief Veterinary Officer Rosemary Sifford said in an interview.

Bird flu has hit poultry in Europe and Asia in addition to North America, and Sifford said the USDA is working with other countries on options for vaccines. Trading has suffered, as importers like China have blocked imports from more than a dozen U.S. states with outbreaks.

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