Despite a massive uptake of bluetongue vaccine from farmers in the south and east of England, farmers in other areas shouldn’t be complacent and think they don’t have to protect their own stock.

Speaking at last week’s Sheep Event 2008, Malvern, NSA chief executive Peter Morris said bluetongue was still the biggest single disease risk facing the industry this year and while early vaccination campaigns had been successful they wouldn’t have created a sufficient firewall to prevent the disease spreading to northern counties.

“The vaccination campaign so far has been a phenomonal success with, we believe, more than 85% of stock in the protection zone vaccinated against the disease. This is an unprecendented level of vaccination, particularly bearing in mind it was a voluntary campaign.

Warning

“But we need to look closely at what is now happening in France and heed the warning their experience is giving us. The Burgundy region of France has seen several hundred cases in the last two weeks and farmers there are living in fear of the disease.”

This experience should be more than enough to kick start UK farmers into action, he warned. “There will always be a few who try to avoid the added costs of vaccinating. But they must remember it is not only their own stock they are protecting. They are helping the whole of the industry by limiting the chance of the disease spreading to new areas.

“Everyone must be extremely grateful for the sacrifices made by farmers in the south and east of England who suffered losses last year due to movement restrictions. At the moment we are still in a strong position in terms of vaccination, but it must still be a top priority for those in areas where vaccine isn’t yet available,” he added.

Other strains

Chris Oura from the Institute for Animal Health said although vaccination would help eradicate BTV8, there are still 23 other strains of the disease not covered by BTV8 vaccine.

BTV1 is a concern and is being watched carefully, said Dr Oura. “The BTV1 strain has come up from Morocco, moved into Spain and is now moving across southern France. There is a vaccine available for BTV1 and a systemic vaccine is also being worked on to protect against all 24 serotypes,” he explained.

Dr Oura also stressed the importance of thinking carefully before importing and moving animals. “Only vaccinated stock should really be moved, particularly for farmers at the edge of the protection zone.”

Vaccines must not be mixed

And Mr Morris also warned that with Merial’s version of bluetongue vaccine due to be released in August, the Intervet and Merial vaccines must not be mixed.

He also said cross-border trade issues could occur this autumn with Scotland probably running a compulsory vaccination campaign over winter. “Suckled calf trade may be particularly difficulty and it is all about balancing disease risk against trade implications,” he said.

Mr Morris said there were many issues surrounding the vaccine, including rumours of adverse reactions in animals. “Damage to confidence is being caused by rumours of abortion and any farmers experiencing problems are legally bound to report the problem to the vet.”