After the disclosure of DEFRA‘s bluetongue vaccination plan by Farmers Weekly, leading vets are calling on farmers in the protection zone to register interest in vaccination with their vet to ensure they are not left out once vaccine becomes available.

Independent sheep vet Chris Lewis says although the first doses of vaccine won’t be available until May, farmers should contact their vet and register how many doses they think they will need. “It’s essential to remember that cattle will require two doses, whereas sheep will only need one, when doing the calculations,” he adds.

And although the aim may be to achieve at least 80% vaccination of susceptible animals nationwide, Mr Lewis says this doesn’t mean farmers should vaccinate only that proportion of their own stock. “It is essential that if you choose to vaccinate, you treat all your animals. Despite sheep farms suffering the greatest losses in northern Europe, cattle are just as important in the vaccination strategy as midges will bite cattle before sheep and cattle will replicate far more of the virus and act as reservoirs of infection.”

Bluetongue blue tongue sheep

Belgium lost one-third of its national sheep flock to bluetongue last year thankfully, UK farmers have the chance to vaccinate before the disease is too widespread, he adds. “Farmers must take this opportunity to protect their stock.”

Writing in Vet Record, British Vet Association president Nick Blayney said the vaccine must be administered swiftly so levels of immunity precede further spread of the virus when the midge population is active and temperatures are high enough for virus transmission.

“The disease pattern in northern Europe has left no doubt as to the gravity of the situation,” he wrote. “Anecdotally, it appears the lamb crop in areas of northern Europe may be down by 30% and cattle production has been similarly adversely affected. Our fragile farming industry cannot afford this.”