Monday, July 20, 2009

Defra on Vaccination

Defra appear to be wearing two hats. On the one hand their badger Vaccine Deployment Project, as described to veterinary personnel, uses phrases such as:
Not a silver bullet - a way of reducing risk: Another tool in the box - use with other measures, and Defra cite 'practical and legal difficulties.'
On timetable, badger vaccines are described as "2010 for an injectable" and at the very earliest, "2014 for oral." Problems envisaged include:
Expense and lack of farmer confidence ( now why would that be?
Practicality of trapping badgers, need to access land, vaccinating a wild animal and technical barriers to developing an oral bait.
The initial six areas aim to vaccinate badgers in endemically infected areas and will continue for five years. The 'trial' is completely funded by Defra and will be carried out by trained contractors. Participation is voluntary and farmers may withdraw if they want to. Protocol is described as 'flexible' as 'this is not a scientific trial'.

Defra officials say that "If vaccination reduces the level of disease in badgers it should reduce the risk to cattle."

Note our emphasis on the carefully crafted 'maybes' in that sentence and compare to what the farmers are told. And it gets better. On the thorny question of vaccinating badgers already infected with tuberculosis, Defra agree that it is a waste,
But it keeps it simple.; you can't identify an infected badger in the field, the field diagnostic tests are not good enough yet. And infected badgers don't look any different ( From what? A bite-wounded bag of bones should be pretty obvious. What happens to that one?? )

And on perturbation - the excuse-for-doing-nothing that Defra have used, when hiding behind John Bourne's skirts:
The deployment project will be a lot less disruptive and less stressful for badgers. (than what?) The only risk of perturbation would be if you try to remove badgers, and we are not going to do that.
Mmmmm. Didn't John Bourne's recent efforts in the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, cage trap a few badgers, leave them confined for a fair while - but then return to find a shed-load of empty cages or cages gone walkabout as 'activists' released the contents or moved them to 'safe houses'? And wasn't perturbation cited as the reason for the early years' of the RBCTs apparent increases in cattle TB? And is it not the sole reason for doing absolutely nothing about a reservoir of disease now back-spilling into many other species?

So how is trapping a wild badger (that is 'wild' as opposed to the Woodchester badger population, who view a baited cage as their Ritz self service bar), leaving it a few hours to stew, tipping the cage on its end to make sure the occupant has its backside in the air, jamming a pronged fork through the mesh to secure it, jabbing a (long) needle in its backside, painting it yellow and then releasing it, not 'disruptive or stressful' for wild badgers, and will neither cause stress related perturbation nor increase disease status from 'infected' to (highly) 'infectious' ?
(That question was rhetorical by the way)

But we digress. That presentation was for vets. And it crept along with a lot of hope, little certainty and an abiding prayer that it would not make things worse. Our European masters demand a tuberculosis eradication strategy, and hey, Defra have one.

But already the Defra spin machine has clanked into action, inviting farmers outside the six 'trial-that-isn't-scientific' areas to volunteer to vaccinate their badgers. Farmers Guardian has the story.
Briefly, vaccine will be available at between £12 - £20 per dose and licenses to use it from Natural England. The work will be contracted out to trained personnel who will bill the farmer and that cost is likely to be much higher than that of the vaccine. But an upbeat presentation used rather different phrases and tone from that which was delivered to vets. Defra officials:
... believe farmers elsewhere, particularly owners of high value pedigree herds, may also see the economic benefits of doing it themselves.
... are confident that vaccinating in the project areas will bring benefits in terms of cattle disease.

To be fair (and why should we be?) Defra's upbeat officials also accept their latest prevarications strategy could take a number of years to come through "as already infected badgers will survive for some time". Other pamphlets we have seen use 4/5 badger generations (that's 20 - 30 years), but Defra say "disease trends will be carefully monitored".
Good. We are sure the world is watching UK's 'disease trends' with interest..

Defra conclude:
Badger vaccination will not eliminate the risk but should reduce it and will not make things worse.

Well that's all right then. Some strategy. Some eradication programme.


Flores Hayes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matthew said...

Spam comment deleted.

Anonymous said...


I may (?) have said this before:-

• The problem of bTB in cattle is not ‘Scientific’ – it is ‘Political’.

• The incidence of bTB in cattle has increased exponentially since 1997 when the New Labour regime gained office and ceased culling diseased badgers.

• The solution - therefore - must also be ‘Political’

• If we rid ourselves of this immoral & incompetent tribe that is New Labour – we will in turn rid ourselves of bTB in our cattle!

• There is absolutely no point whatsoever in English Farmers becoming involved with the ‘vaccination’ project and all farmers, stock breeders and the associated organisations such as the NFU and NBA should say so - now!

It’s time for the English farming community and its representatives to tell New Labour’s DEFRA and its pathetic so-called scientists to get on their bicycles!

Then let the 12 months' 'countdown to sanity’ begin!

Peter Brady

Anonymous said...

Defra have been running these vaccination trials for the last three years in Gloucestershire. Why can't somebody take a less sceptical view on things and make touch with them to determine the results of it to date ? I have heard some good things about it, so to dismiss it without first checking would seem to be a wee bit foolish to me ? Also, with farmers expected to pay for their own vaccination if they are outside the trial areas, why shouldn't cash strapped farmers take the free option and use the Defra free vaccination scheme if they are in a designated area ?

Matthew said...

Anon 6.30
The only previous trial runs to which Defra have referred in their Vaccination Deployment Project pep talks involve the vaccination of badgers in non-endemic TB areas, (or lab-rat tests) combined with the 'trap' effect on Woodchester's badger population which is trapped on a regular basis from birth.

As far as we are aware, vaccination of a genuinely wild population already heavily infected with TB is a venture which has not been trialled before. The fact that Defra have said on many occasions, that they hope it won't make the situation worse, is hardly encouraging.

If you have information which is outside those parameters, feel free to share it as Defra has not thus far seen fit to do so.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous says:-

Defra have been running these vaccination trials for the last three years in Gloucestershire.

If so - then it appears that they don't work

If they did work DEFRA would undoubtedly say so even if they only showed a small chink if light at the end of a very long tunnel!

It's also a pity that DEFRA hasn't given the PCR technology a higher priority!

Peter Brady

Andrew Proud said...

"Anonymous Anonymous" is right to ask for a little less scepticism on vaccination; I know nothing about the DEFRA work but I have read the report of the Irish Badger Vaccine Project and am impressed. The Irish workers tested an injectable, commercially available, BCG vaccine and found that it gave good protection against massive challenge. Next they developed an oral formulation and found that badgers vaccinated by mouth were similarly protected. Now they are carrying out a field trial which will end with complete depopulation of the area and bacteriological testing of all badgers. If the field trial is successful and the oral vaccine licensed, an answer to the problem will be available: vaccination for badgers outside the heavily infected areas and euthanasia for those inside. But I am at a loss to see how DEFRA's proposed trial will make any contribution to this glimmer of hope for the future.

Matthew said...

We agree that vaccinating badgers in areas where cattle tests indicate little or no infection would be a good idea - if it works.
And as you say, the Irish work is a bit further down the road on this.
What we cannot even begin to imagine is the point, or more especially, the result of cage trapping in a population where sentinel cattle tests are showing gross and endemic infection in the badgers. That's like vaccinating a room full of people with measles, for ... measles.