The government is unlikely to foot the bill for bluetongue vaccine next year, believing instead that the market is now ready to provide the 22m doses needed.

Fewer than three in five producers vaccinated against the disease during 2008, even though the government pump-primed vaccine production at the behest of farm leaders by guaranteeing to buy millions of doses from pharmaceutical companies.

Some 90% of producers in south-east England vaccinated livestock, but poor uptake further north meant vaccination levels across the country as a whole were below 60%. As a result, 12m doses of BTV8 vaccine remain on the shelf.

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Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens (pictured) suggested ministers would be reluctant to buy a similar quantity of vaccine in 2009. Asked whether the vaccine would stand on its own two feet commercially, Mr Gibbens said: “We are hoping that it would, yes.”

Ideally, pharmaceutical companies would be in a position to produce flexible amounts of vaccine so it was available as and when required by farmers and the veterinary profession during 2009, Mr Gibbens told Farmers Weekly.

Brian Rice, veterinary adviser to vaccine producer Merial Animal Health, said the government’s decision was “not without risk” but the company would work hard to ensure enough doses were available for UK farmers.

In terms of other serotypes, although a BTV1 vaccine is being used in France, Mr Gibbens said he needed to consider with industry leaders whether enough supplies would be available next year should they be needed by UK producers.

“We mustn’t forget that BTV1 presents its own raft of movement restrictions. We’ve got to decide with the industry what price is worth paying to try to maintain our controls on bluetongue as we start to see more serotypes appearing.”