Public Health Agency of Canada Expert Panel on Avian Influenza A(H5Nx) in Canada: Terms of reference

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The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Expert Panel on Avian Influenza A(H5Nx) was formed to engage scientific expertise and the best available evidence. An unprecedented epizootic of highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N1) in wild birds and poultry has been ongoing globally since late 2021, with an increase in cases in Canada in 2022. There has also been significant spillover of A(H5N1) into wild and domestic mammals in several countries, including Canada, with many of the isolated viruses containing genetic markers of importance for mammal and human adaptation.

Sporadic human cases of A(H5N1) associated with the current global outbreak have been recorded. To date, there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission and there have been no reported human cases in Canada. Human populations in Canada with close contact to infected animals are at increased risk, however, based on current evidence, the risk to the general public in Canada is currently low.

The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and the Chief Science Officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) have convened a series of regular meetings of experts and public health partners to inform PHAC's preparedness posture with respect to avian influenza A(H5Nx) and the evolving science and research agenda, share public health actions to date, discuss emerging priorities and identify outstanding knowledge gaps.

Mandate and objectives

The mandate of the PHAC expert panel meetings is to enable access to and engagement of scientific and public health expertise from diverse disciplinary perspectives (from laboratory through to behavioural and social sciences) and knowledge to best inform the Canadian public health response to avian influenza A(H5Nx). Specific objectives for each meeting will be developed based on the current transmission, preparedness, and outbreak scenarios as well as public health information needs. Meeting objectives will be communicated via an agenda.


The PHAC expert panel will share information via regularly scheduled meetings to be coordinated by the Office of the Chief Science Officer. Meetings will occur once per month, or as needed according to the situation, and are expected to be two hours in length. Speakers will be selected according to the objectives of the meeting and asked to prepare a short presentation. Materials will be shared with participants as attachments to the meeting invitation and these should be reviewed ahead of the meeting. Meetings are expected to take place virtually, with potential to meet in-person in the future.

Scope and expected outcomes

To assess progress in addressing knowledge needs and evidence gaps, and to facilitate collaborations across jurisdictions and disciplines, this panel will consider previous exchanges on the evidence base to inform public health guidance, global research questions, and local community needs and opportunities for engagement.

This panel will focus on the state of science and the emerging evidence for avian influenza A(H5Nx). Though this knowledge could inform the development of and updates to public health and clinical guidance, the production of guidance products are outside of the scope of this group.

The expected outcomes of this panel are scientific advice that can be used to inform the development of a PHAC horizontal science plan for avian influenza A(H5Nx), cross disciplinary collaborations and network building, and records of meeting discussions that include lists of actionable items for accountable parties.


Membership on the PHAC expert panel is by invitation. Selection criteria are based on:

Subgroups may be formed to address topics of specialized interest and expertise.

Membership is expected to change based on the context of the outbreak and according to the topics on the agenda.

The need for the PHAC expert panel will be assessed on a periodic basis, with members consulted on the duration of the terms for the group and requirements for dissolution.

Roles and responsibilities

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada

Chief Science Officer

Office of the Chief Science Officer

Vice President for the Infectious Diseases and Vaccination Programs Branch

Expert panel members

Federal intramural experts

Other participants and observers

Media and communications

All media requests related to the PHAC expert panel should be directed to the Communications and Public Affairs Branch who will work with the Office of the Chief Science Officer to answer the requests.

The PHAC expert panel terms of reference and membership will be posted online.


The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and the Chief Science Officer report jointly to PHAC's executive committee on outcomes of the PHAC expert panel meetings as needed.

The Chief Science Officer reports to the PHAC expert panel via record of meeting discussions by feeding back to the group any actions resulting from discussions and recommendations made at the PHAC expert panel meetings.

Outcomes of the PHAC expert panel meetings may be shared with provincial and territorial partners via the Public Health Network and Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health, and to appropriate federal government departments as deemed necessary.

In the event an IMS is activated for avian influenza A(H5Nx), the Office of the Chief Science Officer reports activities and outcomes of the meetings to the Health Portfolio Executive Group (HPEG), IMS event manager, and planning groups (e.g., IMS Stakeholder Engagement).

Confidentiality, and affiliations and interests declaration

Opinions expressed during the PHAC expert panel meetings do not reflect PHAC endorsement of any activity or plan.

Records of discussions and all materials presented are meant solely for the members of the PHAC expert panel. Materials marked confidential should be treated as such. Members wishing to share any of the materials produced should submit a request to the Office of the Chief Science Officer. Where granted, onward forwarding of the materials should include the above disclaimer. Meetings will be conducted under the Chatham House Rule.

PHAC expert panel members will be asked to serve in an individual expert capacity and are not meant to specifically represent any:

Members are asked to complete an Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form. As a condition of appointment, panel members agree to allow PHAC to publish on its website a short summary of their affiliations and interests. All panel members will have the opportunity to review their content for accuracy before it is published.

Panel participants and observers may also be asked to complete the Affiliations and Declaration of Interests Form as well.

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