How COVID-19 improved local production of Newcastle disease vaccines

I-2 vaccines production at Central Veterinary Lab, Malawi. ©Gibson Kauta

Agricultural value chains in Malawi were impacted heavily by the dual shocks of COVID-19 and the Ukraine war. When Newcastle disease vaccine supply was restricted, indigenous poultry in Malawi were severely threatened. CASA’s timely partnership, meant that alternate vaccine supplies could enter the value chain – protecting poultry from this devastating disease for the foreseeable future. The CASA Malawi team explains the impact of this partnership.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions to supply chains in the poultry sector in Malawi. Travel restrictions and lockdowns in most countries, meant that Malawi was unable to import the Hitchner and LaSota vaccines, used to vaccinate poultry against Newcastle disease.   

This presented a significant threat to the poultry sector.  Mortality rates from Newcastle disease outbreaks – a highly contagious poultry disease – can reach as high as 90%, effectively destroying a whole flock. Indigenous chickens, often preferred by smallholder farmers, were particularly under threat because of their increased vulnerability to Newcastle disease.

Locally produced vaccine

In Malawi the Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL), a state-owned subsidiary under the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development, is responsible for production of I-2 vaccine. This is a cheaper alternative vaccine against Newcastle disease.

Considering the devastating effects of Newcastle disease and limitations on imports posed by COVID-19 restrictions, CVL needed to boost local production of I-2 vaccine.

CASA’s role

CASA conducted a Rapid Market Assessment on production and supply of I-2 vaccine, which established CVL had between 2-4% market share of Newcastle disease vaccines in Malawi.  However, there was high demand from smallholder farmers and agrovet shops

These findings led CASA to partner with CVL to address the underlying constraints and improve production and distribution of the I-2 vaccine. CASA supported CVL with a grant of GBP £10,000 to procure equipment, and the input items required to scale-up production of I-2 vaccine. These included two incubators of 560 egg capacity in total, 30,000 eye droppers (vials), chemical reagents and 250 Hy-line (breed) chickens to be used as brood stock for supplying fertile eggs for vaccine production.

Increase in production

CVL produced over 22,000 vials of I-2 vaccine between August 2021 to March 2022, with 20,520 vials distributed to various chicken producers, supporting 110,105 poultry farmers.  A single vial contains 300 doses of I-2 vaccine – and means the increased production equates to over 5 million vaccines and full vaccination of about 1.7 million birds.

5 million vaccine doses
110,105 poultry farmers
1.7 million birds
CVL activity between August 2021 to March 2022

CASA’s primary objective was to avoid bird mortalities, but a sustainable production of the I-2 vaccine has also been achieved. The initial investment of GBP10,000 by CASA has facilitated the resumption of a consistent vaccines production schedule and increases the likelihood that poultry in Malawi will remain vaccinated in the future.

Newcastle vaccine dose - credit Prasenjit De CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Example of a Newcastle Vaccine being applied to a chicken. ©Prasenjit De (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

CVL was able to immediately make GBP22,000 from sales of the first lot of vaccine. They used the proceeds to cover variable costs towards continued I-2 vaccine production. This included purchasing more chemical reagents and additional Hy-line chicken brood stock used in the vaccine production.

Going forward, CVL plans to improve on consistency of I-2 Vaccine supply on the market, and explore other poultry vaccines production to take care of emerging infections such as Coryza and Fowl Pox.

Currently CVL only meets around 10% of I-2 vaccine demand.  They plan to continue re-investing profits from vaccine sales to scale production and increase supply to meet demand among smallholders. Compared to available imported Newcastle vaccines, I-2 vaccines are thermostable and cost half and a third of the cost Hitchner and Lasota vaccines for a similar dose respectively. This makes the vaccine more affordable and within the reach of more vulnerable, resource constrained smallholders.

Further information

Read the CASA Poultry Sector Strategy for Malawi, here

Learn more about Newcastle Disease, here

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