Vaccination of Pigeons for Pigeon Paramyxovirus (PPMV1)
Is there a vaccine available for pigeons?
There currently is no registered paramyxovirus vaccine for the use in pigeons in Australia.
Pigeon paramyxovirus is closely related to the virus that causes Newcastle disease in poultry. Registered Newcastle disease poultry vaccines are available in Australia. Vaccination of pigeons with Newcastle disease poultry vaccines has regularly occurred in other countries during outbreaks of pigeons paramyxovirus disease. Such poultry vaccines have been observed to be safe when used “off label” to vaccinate pigeons.
“Off label” usage means that the product is not registered to be used in that particular species. It is costly to get products registered especially when the target market is relatively small. Companies may deem that it is not financially viable to present the necessary information for registration of a product for use in a minor species.
There is then no efficacy nor safety data for Poultry Newcastle disease vaccines in pigeons. It is strongly recommended that pigeon owners considering the use of Newcastle disease vaccine do so in consultation with their Veterinarian.
Isn’t there a pigeon paramyxovirus vaccine available overseas?
There is a registered pigeon vaccine available in some countries. DPI remains strongly supportive of efforts to import a pigeon specific PMV1 vaccine from Europe. One vaccine company, with the support of various industry bodies, applied to import that vaccine, and APMVA assessed the vaccine as safe and efficacious. However, the application has not been given quarantine approval. It seems unlikely that a pigeon specific vaccine will become available in Australia in the near future.
Importation of vaccines requires permission from AQIS and the APVMA. Individuals should be aware that the importation of unregistered agricultural chemical products or veterinary medicines is an offence without prior written consent from the APVMA. Further information can be obtained from the APVMA’s website.
What vaccines are available to protect my pigeons?
The role of vaccination in the management of this outbreak is a matter that has received the close attention of the Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases. CCEAD has recently concluded that scientific and other evidence supports the off-label use of certain Newcastle disease vaccines currently available in Australia for protecting pigeons from developing disease. A two dose immunisation course with an annual booster as part of a flock biosecurity plan is recommended based on overseas experience.
CCEAD is the Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases. It is a coordinating body of experts that provide a technical link between the Commonwealth, states, territories and industry for decision making during animal health emergencies.
Will the vaccine protect my pigeons if PPMV infection is already in my loft?
Vaccines will not treat pigeons already exposed or infected with the pigeon paramyxovirus. Vaccines should not be used as a medicine to treat sick pigeons. Once pigeons have become infected with paramyxovirus there is no recognised treatment.
Pigeons that have been naturally exposed and survived the disease are likely to have a period of immunity for some time thereafter.
How do I get my pigeons vaccinated?
It is strongly recommended that pigeon owners considering the use of Newcastle disease vaccine do so in consultation with their Veterinarian. Only healthy birds in healthy flocks should be vaccinated.
How many doses of vaccine should my pigeons have?
CCEAD has described a preferred approach is use two doses of killed vaccine a few weeks apart in healthy birds by subcutaneous injection. An annual booster is recommended for on-going protection.
How long after my pigeons are vaccinated will my birds be protected against PPMV?
Protection takes time to develop, and it is suggested that vaccinated birds should not be exposed to other pigeons until at least 4 weeks after the vaccination procedure has been completed. Pigeons exposed to pigeon paramyxovirus around the time of vaccination will most likely not be protected against becoming sick with pigeon paramyxovirus disease.
Protection is not determined only by antibody levels following vaccination. Vaccines that do not produce high levels of haemagglutination inhibition antibodies in vaccinated pigeons may still provided some level of protection.
Will the vaccine alone protect my pigeons from paramyxovirus?
A vaccine is a biological agent and thus rarely results in 100% protection against a disease in all animals in every situation. Although there has been no official trials in regards to the efficacy of poultry Newcastle Disease vaccines in protecting pigeons against paramyxovirus, it is highly probable that these vaccines will protect most pigeon flocks against disease from PPMV1.
Vaccination is no substitute for sound biosecurity measures, which must continue to be applied.
Should all owners vaccinate their pigeons?
Vaccination should be considered in all domestic pigeons. Given the endemic nature of the disease within the feral population around greater Melbourne pigeons owners need to consider all options to protect their birds against pigeon paramyxovirus. As a registered pigeon specific PMV1 vaccine is not likely to be available in the medium term, use of the Poultry Newcastles disease ‘off label’ warrants consideration.Pigeon owners considering a return to racing and showing (i.e. after the prohibition on pigeon aggregation activities ceases on 25 March 2012) are recommended to consider vaccination, in consultation with their veterinary practitioner, as an addition to sound biosecurity measures to protect their lofts against pigeon paramyxovirus.