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Vaccination of chickens alone ‘not enough to manage bird flu risk’

SINGAPORE — The vaccination of free-roaming chickens is not, on its own, an effective solution in managing the risk of bird flu, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Tuesday (April 4), in response to questions about the culling of chickens at Sungei Api Api in Pasir Ris.

Vaccination of chickens alone ‘not enough to manage bird flu risk’

Hen and chicks are seen at the greenery area beside Block 452 Sin Ming Avenue on 1 February 2017. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — The vaccination of free-roaming chickens is not, on its own, an effective solution in managing the risk of bird flu, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Tuesday (April 4), in response to questions about the culling of chickens at Sungei Api Api in Pasir Ris. 

Noting that there were more than 100 chickens in the area, he reiterated that the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) takes a risk-based approach to managing the bird flu risk, but did not say how many birds were culled there, or the number of complaints received.

Dr Koh, who was replying to questions from Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng, told the House that there are many bird flu strains, and the virus is known to mutate. 

“While bird flu vaccinations can provide partial protection against certain strains, the vaccinated chickens can still be infected by other strains, particularly since free-roaming chickens have contact with other wildlife,” he added. 

Dr Koh said the culling of chickens at Sungei Api Api took place at around the same time as culling operations at Sin Ming. In January, free-roaming chickens were put down there over fears of bird flu risks.

Initial reports stated that the AVA had carried out the operations at Sin Ming after receiving 20 complaints from residents last year, most of them related to noise.

However, in a letter to TODAY’s Voices page on Feb 13 this year, Dr Yap Him Hoo, the AVA’s director-general, said: “The noise issues only serve to bring attention to the relatively high numbers of free-roaming chicken in certain areas, which in turn raise the exposure risk to bird flu in these localities.”

Stressing the need to “put things in context”, Dr Koh said Singapore is in an area of bird flu risk, with cases reported in the Malaysian state of Kelantan. 

The Malaysian authorities have also culled about 57,000 chickens.

“In reducing the number of chickens, AVA takes an assessment on the ground, not necessarily on the number of complaints or feedback per se.

“But if the numbers were high enough to take pre-emptive action — regardless of any amount of feedback — we will have to take action to reduce ... I think we have to understand this is not just about the chickens, but also about public safety and human health,” said Dr Koh.

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