Farming Today David King Dec 28 2001



Farming Today: The government did get permission from the European Commission to use vaccine in Cumbria and the West Country. The idea was to protect cattle that had been in sheds during the winter before they went out onto the hills. The Prime Minister's chief scientific advisor Prof. David King told us how it would work:


David King: The cattle that are vaccinated with this high potency vaccine that is available and this is the vaccine that we would propose to be using in Cumbria and in Devon, would be able to face a very severe challenge of Foot and Mouth virus and therefore would not pick up the disease. They would develop antibodies which would stop the virus from going into their bodies and virus would not go into their milk. The virus is carried, but only in the region of the throat of the animal and the rate of infection of other animals from an animal that is carrying it in this way is very very low indeed. There are one or two reported cases around the world and there has been a very long history of foot and mouth disease, one or two cases only where disease has been shown to have been spread from such carriers.


Farming Today: If the animal can carry the disease in their throats does that mean they can breath it out?


David King: Yes, but what I m really going to stress here is because of the antibody development in the body of the cow the virus can never build up to a significant enough level for it to amount to a significant challenge to another animal and so the possibility of passing the disease onto another animal is extremely low.


Farming Today: Would animals have to be vaccinated continually over that 6-month period or would one vaccination do it?


David King: This high potency vaccine that is being held at Pirbright would only need to be administered once to a herd, and only once, and within three to four days the antibodies would have developed in the animal and we would say keep

The cattle in barns for a week after vaccination and then when they are let out the animals exposed to virus would not become diseased.


Farming Today: Professor David King. In the end it didn't happen. The Government couldn't get the farming unions to agree and Professor King has since said it wouldn't make much difference to the way the epidemic spread anyway. The chief bogeyman for the people campaigning for vaccination was Ben Gill, President of the NFU but he argues that it was always a complex issue.


Ben Gill: We should have had the tool of vaccination but it didn't work. It wouldn't work


Farming Today: I remember it differently because at the start of the epidemic I remember you saying no to vaccination


Ben Gill: I said no to vaccination for a variety of reasons, one of which it wouldn't have worked, and the secondary one was on the basis of our credibility and our status in the world market place, and particularly in the European market place. It is distinct from saying that I wouldn't have appreciated that we had a vaccination tool. It is one thing wishing you had had one, and it is another having it.


Farming Today: Ben Gill. Some scientists suggested that vaccination would have made things worse, that more animals would have died if it had been used in this epidemic. Professor Mark Woolhouse is one of them:


Woolhouse: We looked at it as vaccination on its own, so as a vaccination to live strategy and we found that if vaccination had been used for example instead of ring culling unless it was an absolutely massive vaccination programme which could not have been implemented quickly it would not have bought the disease under control and ultimately more livestock would have been culled if we had attempted to go that route. Vaccination works in the sense that it stops disease being transmitted but only after a delay. It takes the animals several days to build up an immunity to the virus. Ultimately I think we are going to have a debate on the possible use of prophylactic vaccination that's mass vaccination in advance whether that would have prevented an outbreak like this now that's a very broad ranging debate with lots of economic and welfare issues involved and I don't want to have to sort of pre-empt it and make a strong recommendation but I think we have to have that debate.


Cut to soundbite from


David Byrne: The proposal that the Commission will present shortly for a directive for the control of FMD will provide the opportunity for a full debate on prophylactic vaccination. Its proponents have to convince the member states and the commission that the framework is right for its introduction.


(Brief interview here with Margaret Beckett on how she couldn't have done anything else etc)


Farming Today: There will of course be many changes in the wake of foot and mouth, we don't know what they will be yet, but the Government certainly isn't short of advice.