The National Sheep Association (NSA) is piling the pressure on bluetongue vaccine manufacturers to restart production ahead of the expected arrival of the disease from France in the summer.
In statements released this week, the NSA and NFU urged sheep farmers to consider vaccinating against bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BTV8), which resurfaced in central France last year.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) believed there was an 80% chance bluetongue would arrive in the UK by the end of the summer from France, where 225 cases of the disease have been reported since August.
But with no BTV8 vaccine currently available in the UK and all existing doses thought to be in the hands of the French government, the NSA and NFU are worried none will be available should the disease hit our shores.
With “strong evidence” bluetongue could hit southern England in coming months, the NFU has urged livestock farmers to discuss vaccinating against the disease with their vets.
Meanwhile, the NSA said an “agreed disease control strategy” was required to “keep the UK clear of the virus and not allow it to become endemic if it does arrive.”
“Given that the UK is an island nation and we have the potential to protect ourselves through vaccination in advance of any spread to our shores, planning for adequate vaccine production and uptake is now essential,” said Phil Stocker, chief executive at the NSA.
“I urge producers in potentially vulnerable areas to seriously think about how an outbreak of bluetongue could impact on their own stock and their ability to move stock, and to consider committing to a vaccination programme.
“I also urge vaccine manufacturers to step up their communication with the UK livestock industry and to start preparing the way for manufacture,” he said.
Farmers Weekly approached three previous UK manufacturers of the bluetongue vaccine to gauge availability:
- MSD Animal Health reiterated a statement made in October 2015, confirming it had no vaccine available but was monitoring the situation in France.
- Zoetis said it would be making an announcement soon regarding the production of a bluetongue vaccine.
- Merial confirmed it was in “early discussions” regarding the supply of a vaccine. “BTV vaccines are not produced on a routine basis. Demand for vaccine from a country is required before vaccine manufacturers can initiate the production and supply. It takes an average of six months to produce the BTV vaccine. Merial has been consulted by the UK government and is in early discussions about the supply of BTV8 vaccines.”
Mr Stocker said that many NSA members said they would choose to vaccinate against BTV8 if doses were “available at a reasonable cost” – in line with the result of a recent Farmers Weekly online poll.
“Whether that would get usage to a level that would protect the national flock is questionable, but that is where we are at the moment and the most important challenge is to get adequate approved and inactive vaccine stock available at a price that encourages uptake,” said Mr Stocker.