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The Scottish Farmer, April 2nd, 2011 - Letters

The time to discuss vaccines is now!

SIR, - 'Vaccine doubts' (TSF, March 19) - it is a shame that the headline for this short piece carries negative connotations, as it was the success of prophylactic vaccination in Europe that allowed us to obtain the much valued 'foot and mouth-free status without vaccination' at a time when foot and mouth disease (FMD) vaccines were nothing like as effective as they are now.

The organisers of the conference that took place recently at the Moredun are to be applauded for their courage in addressing the issue of vaccination to live now, rather than when we have the next incursion of FMD.

Nigel Miller speaks for the majority when he says that we must find a way of avoiding the mass slaughter of animals that took place in 2001 and the use of emergency vaccination to live should be accepted as a key part of future strategy.

Surely no-one who cares about the livestock they keep, not all of which are destined for the food chain, would wish ever again to see millions of animals, so many of which were uninfected, killed as a means of controlling a virus? In view of the effect that the mass slaughter had on people as well as animals, it is cheering that the article acknowledges that contiguous culling has no place in future policies.

It is clear that the time to work out how to deploy emergency vaccination to live is when we are free of FMD and there is considerable experience in other countries about the approach to be used and its success.

It is perfectly possible to vaccinate effectively in the face of an epidemic, but it is usually better to start emergency vaccination before an outbreak becomes an epidemic.

Vaccination works. In cattle, the most commonly vaccinated species, for example, a single dose of high potency emergency vaccine can produce robust immunity within 4-5 days.

An important advantage of vaccination is that it considerably reduces the amount of virus that is shed if you are unlucky enough to vaccinate an animal that is actually incubating disease and this, in conjunction with restriction of livestock movements and enhanced biosecurity, is a most potent way of bringing the disease under control.

Add to this that infected animals can be differentiated from vaccinated animals (the so-called DIVA strategy), as well as the fact that vaccination to live was advocated at UK and European level following the 2001 epidemic, and it should be obvious that it would be perverse not to ensure that vaccination to live becomes an integral part of contingency planning and that it is used as part of the management of future outbreaks.

Prof Sheila Crispin

Toby Tennant