Report urges emergency farm virus jabs

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The Independent Online

Britain's leading scientific body has ruled out the routine vaccination of farm livestock to prevent a future foot-and-mouth epidemic until a better vaccine is developed.

Britain's leading scientific body has ruled out the routine vaccination of farm livestock to prevent a future foot-and-mouth epidemic until a better vaccine is developed.

However, the Royal Society wants the Government to introduce a contingency plan for emergency vaccination of sheep, cattle and pigs to limit the spread of any future outbreaks.

A report into infectious diseases in livestock published yesterday by the society found that there was no alternative to the rapid culling of infected animals and their contacts in the foreseeable future because current vaccines cannot totally prevent virus transmission.

The report, commissioned last year by the Government to investigate the scientific issues relating to foot-and-mouth disease, said routine vaccination is not recommended for the UK provided the risk of further outbreaks remains low and that control measures are improved.

Britain and the rest of Europe should aim to retain its "disease-free" status without the routine vaccination of every susceptible animal. "But this proviso could change if, for example, the risk of an outbreak occurring increased sharply, better vaccines became available or the trading regulations associated with disease-free status were further changed, so it must be kept under active review," the Royal Society says.

Although foot-and-mouth vaccines exist they do not yet provide long-term "sterile immunity" when a vaccinated animal cannot transmit the virus to other animals. This, and the difficulty of distinguishing between vaccinated and infected animals, has limited the use of foot-and-mouth vaccines.

A strategy of emergency vaccination could be used alongside culling, however, to limit the spread of an outbreak and prevent it developing into a full-blown epidemic, the Royal Society said.

"For the foreseeable future there is no alternative, when an outbreak occurs, to the rapid culling of disease animals, and all those that are known, or very likely, to have been infected by them," it said.

Tests that can distinguish between vaccinated animals and those infected with the virus could be developed to enable vaccinated animals to live rather than being eventually culled. Consumers should be assured that such animals are safe to eat, the Society said.

The report emphasises that contingency planning to fight future outbreaks should be embedded in the Civil Service, with annual drills to ensure that everyone knows what has to be done.

Sir Brian Follett, who led the Royal Society's committee, said that it was important to "empower" the executive because there was no time to negotiate with farmers and others during the "short, sharp wars" that characterise an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

"Globalisation has caused an increased risk of infectious animal diseases entering the UK. The overall objective of the national policy must be to minimise the risk of a disease entering the country and reaching the farm," said Sir Brian.

"If an outbreak does occur, it must not be allowed to develop into an epidemic, as has happened a number of times in the last century," he said.

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