Vaccines may be effective tools for protecting small populations of highly susceptible endangered, captive-reared, or translocated Hawaiian honeycreepers from introduced Avipoxvirus, but their efficacy has not been evaluated. An attenuated Canarypox vaccine that is genetically similar to one of two passerine Avipoxvirus isolates from Hawai‘i and distinct from Fowlpox was tested to evaluate whether Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) can be protected from wild isolates of Avipoxvirus from the Hawaiian Islands. Thirty-one (31) Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi were collected from high-elevation habitats on Mauna Kea Volcano, where pox transmission is rare, and randomly divided into two groups. One group was vaccinated with Poximune C®, whereas the other group received a sham vaccination with sterile water. Four of 15 (27%) vaccinated birds developed life-threatening disseminated lesions or lesions of unusually long duration, whereas one bird never developed a vaccine-associated lesion or “take.” After vaccine lesions healed, vaccinated birds were randomly divided into three groups of five and challenged with either a wild isolate of Fowlpox (FP) from Hawai‘i, a Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi isolate of a Canarypox-like virus (PV1), or a Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi isolate of a related, but distinct, passerine Avipoxvirus (PV2). Similarly, three random groups of five unvaccinated ‘Amakihi were challenged with the same virus isolates. Vaccinated and unvaccinated ‘Amakihi challenged with FP had transient infections with no clinical signs of infection. Mortality in vaccinated ‘Amakihi challenged with PV1 and PV2 ranged from 0% (0/5) for PV1 to 60% (3/5) for PV2. Mortality in unvaccinated ‘Amakihi ranged from 40% (2/5) for PV1 to 100% (5/5) for PV2. Although the vaccine provided some protection against PV1, both potential for vaccine reversion and low efficacy against PV2 preclude its use in captive or wild honeycreepers.
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