THE UK COULD not effectively tackle foot-and-mouth disease using emergency vaccination if an outbreak were to occur in the near future, an influential group of scientists has said.

The Royal Society published its view on Tue (Dec 21) in a report reviewing the work undertaken by DEFRA to ensure the UK is better prepared for any future outbreak.

The report recognised that the government had already carried out significant work, but it identified problems with the use of emergency vaccination that needed urgently to be resolved.

Furthermore, there was still no validation of the tests used to distinguish between animals that have been infected and those that have been vaccinated, the report said.

Uncertainty

There is also still uncertainty over how widely to vaccinate to ensure an outbreak is contained due to the lag between vaccination and immunity of livestock.

The decision process by which pre-emptive action, either emergency vaccination or slaughter, is deployed is also unclear.

Lord May, president of the Royal Society, has called on DEFRA to develop a credible test that would demonstrate whether an animal is infected or vaccinated. But he also praised the department for its efforts. “DEFRA and others have put considerable work into ensuring that we are better prepared for any future outbreak of livestock disease, with encouraging results,” he said.

The report praised, as worthwhile and productive, DEFRA’s Exercise Hornbeam, a mock outbreak that tested the department’s responses to an F&M outbreak.

“It acknowledges the need to work extensively on vaccination policy, a development which we hope will ensure that the problems associated with the deployment of vaccination are soon resolved,” said Lord May.

“It also identifies lines of communication as a problem which must be addressed.”

In its defence, DEFRA said that the Institute of Animal Health had recently reported that it had made good progress in the validation of non-structural protein tests in cattle. These are the tests that will be used to distinguish vaccinated animals from those that have been infected.

The nature of any pre-emptive action taken would be dependant on the circumstances of an outbreak as these can vary widely and would be dependent on a wide range of factors.