Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Waiting in line...

We are grateful to cartoonist Ken Wignall for permission to reproduce his work, first published in Farmers Guardian 21st March. Succinct and hugely entertaining, the cartoon of badgers waiting in line at a Defra TB Vaccination Centre had us in stitches. The whole idea of vaccinating wild badgers, endemically infected with tuberculosis with a tuberculosis vaccine, has us in stitches, but let that pass.

The guy with the needle wouldn't be our Trevor, would it? Or are the Badger Trust not involved in this charade? And the redhead with the clip file? Our former Minister of (some) Animal Health, Margaret Beckett, no less. Obviously totting up potential votes that this little time waster may glean for the next election.

We are not against vaccination per se. But in this case, with this vaccine (BCG), to be used in half a dozen 'trial areas' set in areas of endemic infection and administered by farmers 'trained' to capture and jab badgers? Sheeesh.
A scientific colleague with vast epidemiological experience commented on the announcement:
"The best that can be hoped for from the latest announcement by DEFRA of their plan [for farmers] to vaccinate badgers with BCG is that will do no harm and not make matters worse. Since the likelihood of a less than reliable vaccine such as BCG being effective in the face of the massive challenge from naturally infected badgers in the field seems highly improbable.

However the cynical will observe that, like the Randomised Badger Culling Trials, it buys the Government 5 more years of prevarication (or at least until they are thrown out of office) when they can pretend they are doing something to stem this wretched disease that is out of control in large parts of the country.

The graphs on our posting below, illustrates how this Government has allowed the problem to escalate since they took office in 1997.

Defra scientists have been fiddling with BCG jabs for decades. It is a very uncertain vaccine, with, we understand, efficacy of around 75 per cent (range 10 - 85) and that when used on an uninfected candidate. Wild badgers are to be cage trapped, and remembering - how could we forget? - the chaos in achieving a meaningful scoop during the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, what is the level of capture and vaccination expected for this little lot? And what is the result of vaccinating a badger already infected with tuberculosis, but not necessarily shedding bacteria? Stress alone is likely to blow that status to infectious, and the result of that on surrounding cattle herds would be disastrous.

Trapping is usually done over a period of weeks to mop up trap-shy individuals; or just 8 nights if you were part of the hit-and-run visits by the RBCT. So how are badgers caught on day one to be identified and marked to avoid be jabbed twice? Or three times? Double eartags, a holding number and database? Luminous paint? Microchips? A clipped ear? Chopped tail? Rather you than me.

Polite message to the Right Honourable Hilary Benn, who thinks this is a brilliant idea. When you do one, we'll be right behind you..

Who dreamed up all this? Hilary Benn is advised not by veterinary professionals, with field experience of infectious diseases and their control but by this chap. Now forgive any lapse of memory here, but his CV mentions NASA? Wasn't it this organisation that muddled imperial measurements and metric and buggered up a space probe, costing $billions? And when the NASA modellers were ousted found other gainful employment, did not many move to the financial sector?

Our new Chief Scientific Advisor lists on his not inconsiderable CV 'The World Bank'. And is it not such financial institutions, hell bent on bonus-driven pyramid selling of unsustainable debt, repackaged to disguise its contents and modelled to appear AAA sound, that has brought the world to the brink of recession? And then that noveau religion, climate change, and its ability to hoover up cash that might otherwise appear as 'taxes' in a government balance sheet. All appear on the Professor's past achievements as does 'Global Bio Deversity Assessment'. But not one word about the control of infectious diseases, which some may think is a little odd.

So, will the badgers come to call and stand in line for their jabs? Our Chief Scientific Adviser obviously thinks that they will. Job done then.


Anonymous said...

I went up to London by train recently and got into a conversation with a man who co-incidentally looked not unlike Prof Robert T Watson (DEFRA)

My understanding from the DEFRA-man on the Manchester-London train suggested that farmers will be trained to use a blow-pipe. So blow – don’t suck!

He also suggested that DEFRA is considering – in the context of Badger TB - re-defining the word ‘stakeholder’ to include a ‘financial’ interest and to re-invent ‘conservation medicine’ whereby – again in the context of Badger TB – so-called present day conservationists would contribute financially to the ‘health’ of the wild badger population. He also mentioned – after another drink – that – in his opinion – vaccination should be used initially to stop the spread of the disease by forming a ‘firewall’ and to get the conservation folk to vaccinate the rest of the counties ‘unaffected’ by Badger TB. But the government has to be seen ‘eradicating the disease' for EU reasons!

He also indicated that with a relatively imminent change of government (June 2010?) we could see the Badger population restricted to National Parks only with farmers ‘rewarded’ accordingly.

After another drink - we discussed the use of vaccinating all of the beavers that may be released into the wild in the near future

I woke up when the train got to Euston !!!

Peter Brady

Matthew said...

Like it!