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China program to vaccinate poultry against bird flu will be nationwide

BEIJING, July 12 (Reuters) - China's program to vaccinate poultry against the H7N9 strain of bird flu will be carried out nationwide from this autumn, the country's agriculture ministry said on Monday.

The government had previously said the program would initially only be applied in some provinces, with other areas allowed to receive vaccinations if approved by veterinary authorities.

The step is part of a drive against bird flu after human cases of the virus spiked in the country last winter, claiming at least 268 lives since October.

Beijing will also strengthen inspections and supervision on poultry being transported between provinces, the ministry said in a document.

Farmers in China have been debating the use of vaccines, with some experts saying vaccines reduce clinical disease but do not prevent a virus from circulating and can mask its prevalence.

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Joseph Radford)