Farmer-led badger vaccination project ‘progressing well’

Farmers and vets are working in partnership successfully to vaccinate badgers against bovine TB in East Sussex.

About 100 farmers, landowners and smallholders are working together on the five-year Defra-funded Vaccinating East Sussex Badgers (Vesba) project.

The large-scale badger vaccination project covers 250sq km in the highest-risk area of bovine TB in the county.

See also: Defra seeks views on targeted culling to tackle bovine TB

The latest Defra annual summary of badger vaccination in England (PDF) showed 634 badgers were vaccinated under the Vesba project in 2023 – up from about 500 in the previous year (2022).

The fourth year of the project is due to get under way from 1 May.

Dr Lindsay Heasman from Hurst Animal Health, the Vesba project manager, said: “The project is going really well. All of our lay vaccinators are well known and respected members of the farming community.

“Vaccination is certainly giving farmers hope insofar as one of the routes of infection is being dealt with.”

The science behind vaccinating badgers with the BCG vaccine is hotly disputed.

Defra believes it can be used as an effective tool to reduce the flow of infection where disease incidence has been lowered in both cattle and badgers.

A Defra consultation on the next stage of its TB eradication strategy for England states that badger vaccination could also be used as a “non-lethal exit strategy” in order to “preserve the benefits of culling and prevent the return of the disease in the clusters”.

Dr Heasman added: “A multi-faceted approach to tackling bovine TB is essential. Vaccination can be used in areas where people are not happy culling badgers.

“As ever, it’s all about using all the tools in the toolbox.

“If farmers feel that the route of infection is being addressed, they are more likely to take action on other important measures, such as testing and enhancing biosecurity on farms.”


Derbyshire vet Sarah Tomlinson, who is also technical director of the TB Advisory Service in England, said: “Badger vaccination has had a bad press with farmers and we know that some farmers are wary of it.

“The peer-reviewed Birch review has shown that the herd incidence rate of TB reduced by 56% in areas of England that had four or more years of culling.

“We don’t have the same evidence for badger vaccination, but we know it can be used as part of a disease control strategy.

“Farmers have the impression that vaccination should be 100% effective, but that’s not realistic.

“But if we liken it to Covid vaccination, we did see that it reduced transmission and stopped people from getting seriously ill and being hospitalised.”

Overall, Defra’s TB vaccination summary shows that 3,064 badgers were vaccinated against TB in 2023, and about half of this total was overseen by Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.