MARCH 5, 2008: Vaccine for bluetongue will be available in May, and it is hoped to be the saviour for livestock keepers.

The Government has ordered 22.5million doses from pharmaceutical company Intervet. The first batch is expected to be available in May. with more batches delivered in stages over the summer.Vaccination will begin in the current Protection Zone (PZ), where disease is most likely to re-emerge in the spring. The aim is to vaccinate to the Surveillance Zone (SZ) boundary as soon as delivery allows.EU rules do not allow vaccination in the Free Area or the SZ, so the PZ will gradually be extended to allow more farmers the opportunity to purchase vaccine. This will be staged, possibly with some further prioritisation on a risk basis if vaccine is not delivered quickly enough. The south coast may be given priority, for example, due to the risk of disease coming from France.If initial vaccine supplies are not sufficient to cover the whole PZ, Defra may declare an area a Bluetongue Vaccination Zone in which vaccine will be available to buy.Again, this will be done taking a risk-based approached, targeting those areas most at risk from disease. The intention is ultimately to expand the PZ to the whole of England and vaccinate accordingly as soon as supplies are available.In Wales, 2.5million doses of vaccine have been ordered. As there is currently no PZ in Wales it is still unclear how vaccination would proceed.It is expected that, should it feel there is an immediate risk of the disease spreading in a particular area, the Welsh Assembly Government could declare a PZ, in which it would then be allowed to vaccinate. More details on a strategy are expected in the coming weeks.Scotland is expected to order 12million doses next week to protect against disease arriving from England and Wales or from northern Europe.Its strategy is currently unclear as, with no cases of bluetongue in Scotland to date, there is no PZ in which to vaccinate.Vaccination will not be compulsory. Defra and the core group of industry representatives advising it have opted for a ‘simple mass vaccination programme, with farmers purchasing vaccine and using it voluntarily’.It was felt a voluntary approach would be less bureaucratic, quicker and cheaper.Some vets and farmers have argued a compulsory programme is necessary to ensure as many livestock keepers as possible vaccinate their animals.According to NFU head of food and farming Kevin Pearce, a compulsory policy would have delayed progress and added costs.Previous experience of vaccinating for bluetongue in other countries has shown that at least 80 per cent of susceptible animals need to be vaccinated in order for the strategy to be effective.The vaccine will be sold as a prescription-only medicine, available from a private vet. The individual farmer is responsible for administering the vaccine once it has been prescribed.Defra is currently working with veterinary organisations to develop guidance on the potential requirements for veterinary certification.The industry is in discussion to provide as much transparency as possible when it comes to the cost. The aim is ensure the price remains as low as possible.The vaccination programme must stay in place for at least three years. If after that time there are no new cases, it may stop. Farmers must wait 60 days after vaccination before they can move vaccinated animals out of the PZ into a Free Area or SZ. They can be moved after just 14 days following a PCR test demonstrating immunity against the virus. But with testing costs to be covered by the farmer, it is unlikely this option will be used on a large scale.One consideration with vaccination is that the second year of the bluetongue outbreak in northern Europe was far more devastating than the first, with thousands of animals dying and many more suffering reduced productivity and infertility.Farmers are encouraged to weigh up the relatively low cost of vaccination against the potentially devastating personal economic losses of an outbreak on their farm. There is no compensation for bluetongue.It is hoped similar vaccination programmes in Europe will be effective and this could be the key to ensuring the UK remains disease-free, ensuring infected animals are not imported from the continent.

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