But is the vaccination of cattle for Tb a viable solution to a problem which is endemic in wildlife?
The test as Farmers Weekly reports, is said to differentiate between cattle 'vaccinated against bTb' and those infected with the disease.
TB is on the increase in the UK cattle herd, costing more than £90m a year and vaccination is under "active consideration", say the Institute of Animal Health. This would involve using the same vaccination used to immunise humans against the disease, BCG.With all due respect to the researchers at Compton, Tb vaccine has been "under consideration" for as many years as I can remember. On other forums, vaccination of cattle for various disease is under active discussion. Vaccination is used worldwide for some notifiable dieases as an anti- marketing tool, and should countries adopt it, their produce is automatically disqualified from entry into other trading blocs.
However, BCG-vaccinated cattle test positive using the tuberculin skin test. Before a bovine TB vaccination strategy can be implemented, a method of distinguishing between vaccinated and infected animals has to be established.
The current discussions centre on the midge bourne BTV (bluetongue virus) which had not been reported in the UK before this year. We therefore qualified for "BTV free status zoning". And for years this country excluded exports of breeding stock, embryos, semen etc from parts of the world whose geographic location encouraged BTV midges and whose stock were vaccinated. Vaccination across Europe is now on the cards, but as a compulsory trading bloc, which will probably mean in due course that BTV is "de-listed" from its current notifiable status.
FMD (Foot and Mouth Disease) has similar trading restrictions under OIE and EU trading rules, and the inevitable two tier markets develop between countries with endemic disease and vaccination policies, and those without either.
So why should a cattle Tb vaccine even be considered other than as a reserach project? It's use is strictly limited, and its disadvantages many.
We asked several epidemiologists and also industry leaders who have connections with export markets, and the replies were unequivocal. Unworkable, unnecessary and commercial suicide.
..I doubt very much that this is the prelude to a vaccination programme for cattle. For a start there is currently no effective vaccine for cattle and I rather doubt there will be. Secondly the idea of vaccinating cattle in the face of massive challenge in the field from infected badgers is daft. Yes, vaccination against brucellosis was successful but there was no wildlife reservoir to break down resistance (and the S19 vaccine was a good one) ...So, if cattle are the only candidate and there is no wildlife reservoir to break down resistance to a vaccine, it would work. But vaccination minimises an immune response to bacterial challenge: it does not stop it altogether. Thus cattle vaccination in the face of exposure from disease endemic elsewhere would be pointless.
And on trade, as we have said an immediate ban would come from the EU - that's if any pharmaceutical company decided with such a limited market, to produce a vaccine at all. Only countries with an uncontrolled wildlife reservoir of Tb would be remotely interested. Manufacturers are demanding a 100 million dose underwrite across the EU for BTV-8 vaccine, before they'll think of applying for market authorisation, so how viable is a Tb vaccine for the West of GB and Wales?
Another quote on this subject:
If we vaccinated cattle there would be an immediate trade embargo with the rest of the EEC. In fact I reckon they are almost waiting for it! Vaccination for badgers is a long term approach which Ireland are currently trialling (or will very soon be ). But no vaccine can cope with the current weight of infection in the badger population at the moment and strategic culling will be an essential pre requisite.Now that is interesting. We have expressed support for vaccination for badgers, if only to protect them from their infected sett mates, but vaccination + disease = death, was always the mantra. And it would appear that for any vaccination programme to succeed, the candidate must be uninfected at the time of vaccination. So how would the Badger Trust sell the concept of a badger cull as a prerequisite of a badger vaccination programme to its members?
But we digress. The test which IAH Compton have developed, relies on the information that immune cells of cattle previously infected with TB contain more of the protein gamma interferon than those vaccinated for TB. They describe the test as able to provide:
.. same day, on farm diagnosis of TB and identify which are vaccinated and which are infected.That sounds suspiciously like PCR. And if it is, good. Especially if it is rt-PCR and we're not still lagging 6 years behind the plot on this stunning technology. Next step, use it to identify bTb in the environment and that is progress.
The researchers at Compton comment: "The ultimate benefit of accurate diagnosis of disease, in the light of vaccination, would be a reduction in the incidence of TB with associated improvements in animal health and welfare, and the livelihood of farmers."
Don't think so. Vaccination in the face of an endemically infected wildlife, would be ineffective and vaccination per se would destroy the livlihoods of all cattle producers, by creating a two tier market - or even no market, for their goods. Archaic, that may seem but it is the reality of global trading.
And what about the cats? And llamas? And free range pigs? ...