MARCH 18, 2008: The UK’s Acting Chief Veterinary Officer has hit back at his European counterparts over claims that Defra’s bluetongue vaccination strategy won’t halt the disease.

Fred Landeg was reacting to claims by the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe that Defra’s approach to animal welfare issues is compromised by cost cutting.FVE President Walter Winding had said: “The British plans fail to guarantee an optimal protection of the animals against the disease.” But in a letter to Dr Winding, released by Defra, Dr Landeg said: “I was surprised and very concerned to see the Federation’s ill-informed press release about the UK’s emergency Bluetongue vaccination plan.”I set out below the facts and request that you publicly retract your statement and arrange for a copy of this letter to be placed on your website without delay.”To suggest that the UK approach “was probably driven by a strong desire to cut costs, and has little to do with animal health and welfare” is both inaccurate and deeply offensive and unbecoming of a professional colleague who I would expect to act on evidence and not speculation.”We want to ensure a rapid coverage of vaccination targeted at areas of greatest risk. Our aim has therefore been to develop a vaccination programme which will:•    allow vaccination to be rolled out as quickly as possible, as vaccine is delivered; and•    reduce the cost of vaccination to a minimum by using existing delivery chains and reducing regulatory burdens.”Accordingly, the UK plan, which has been developed in close partnership with a Core Group of stakeholders, including a senior member of the UK veterinary profession and representatives from the farming and meat industry), outlines a vaccination programme which will ensure a rapid coverage through a voluntary approach unfettered by bureaucracy.”We are in a strong position to act swiftly and reduce the risk of disease spread, not least because we were the first Member State affected by the current outbreak to place an order for vaccine.”The vaccine we have ordered will be restricted to supply through veterinary surgeons, so private vets will be responsible for prescribing it to keepers. Under the UK plan, keepers will be allowed to administer the vaccine to their animals where appropriate, under the authority of private vets – farmers in this country are well practised in vaccinating livestock against a variety of diseases.”As you know, there are no fully authorised products available for Bluetongue serotype 8. Were we to wait for a fully authorised product, another season would pass without the benefit of vaccination, the only viable veterinary tool for the control of Bluetongue.”Provisionally authorised products are still subject to rigorous assessment on the basis of safety and quality. Further, the comment that a provisional marketing authorisation has no form of pharmacovigilance is simply wrong. There is no difference to the pharmacovigilance requirements for a provisionally authorised product – the Marketing Authorisation Holder has a legal obligation to report all cases to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s Suspected Adverse Reaction Surveillance Scheme (SARSS).  As the UK is one of the leading Member States for veterinary pharmacovigilance, you can rest assured that they will be fully implemented for Bluetongue vaccine administered in the UK.”You report that the UK plan has not been approved by the European Commission. This is misleading. The European Commission services have seen our plan and have expressed confidence that it is capable of achieving its objectives of minimising the impact of Bluetongue and reducing the risk of disease spread. We understand that the Commission (DG SANCO) have conveyed to FVE their support for the UK plans. The “approval” process you allude to is about eligibility for co-funding which relies on extensive audit trail, and the use of vets. Having fully considered those options, we concluded this would hinder rapid roll-out of vaccination and effective coverage.”In conclusion, the UK plan has been designed to ensure that vaccine is rolled out as vaccine is delivered in order to ensure effective coverage as quickly as possible thereby protecting the health and welfare of our livestock. The European Commission agrees the plan is capable of meeting its objectives and, like other European countries, we will be using a provisionally approved vaccine because that is all that is available for this serotype.”I am sending a copy of this letter to the European Commission, European Chief Veterinarians and the president of the British Veterinary Association.”

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