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From the author of "Following Orders" - James Drew.  Email received April 6 2006
 
Dear Warmwell

 
The recent discovery of pathogenic AI in a swan in Fife has ignited the
debate about vaccination and it seems to me that history is in great danger
of repeating itself. I am a veterinary surgeon and was closely involved
during the FMD outbreak of 2001. During that time I witnessed a huge amount
of political manoeuvering from a wide range of interested parties, all of
which had their own agenda to follow. The agendas that eventually won
through were those of: Securing the date of a General Election; Securing
International trade; and ensuring that farmers were financially well
compensated for any stock that was slaughtered.

Coupled with the above was the somewhat archaic view of those at the top of
the Veterinary profession that: because Britain had always followed a
slaughter policy to control FMD, that policy should be adhered to at all
costs. It was thought that only 'developing' countries resorted to
vaccination. The whole 'spin' at the time from those in positions of power
was against the use of vaccination.

My own particular agenda during the outbreak was the question of human and
animal welfare. My view was that the obvious way of safeguarding both was by
vaccination. (The long term effect of the chosen policy on human welfare has
since been well documented). There was no doubt in my mind that vaccination
could create its own problems, but I believed these problems to be
summountable. Also, there was no precedent as far as I could see, of any
other country in the world, (when faced with an epidemic of the size which
occured in Britain in 2001), relying solely on a policy of culling. They had
all resorted to vaccination. I could not understand or rationalise why
Britain felt it was capable of pursuing a policy that was so UNIQUE, and,
with the advent of the contiguous cull policy, untried and not based on good
veterinary science, (as has since been proved by numerous published
scientific papers).

During the FMD outbreak I made frequent attempts to change the policy, but
it really was like a snowball rolling down a hillside, taking on a momentum
and life of its own and essentially flattening everything that stood in its
path.The subsequent lack of a probing and independant enquiry into the whole
affair, looking at what was allowed to happen; by whom; and why? has
continued to bother me, so much so that I was moved to write a fictional
novel called 'Following Orders'. Through a fictional narrative this book
seeks to explore the real reasons for what happened, and to give genuine
insight into what it was like during the first six weeks of the epidemic of
2001; the stresses and strains and the tensions and moral dileamours felt by
those required to carry out the orders sent down from above. It highlights
all the competing agendas and the single-minded determination of those in a
postion of power to follow through their agenda to its bitter end.

I will make an unashamed plug for the book. It was published in February
2006 and can be ordered online from Amazon. Anyone who reads it will get a
better understanding of what really happened during 2001, far more so than
is elucidated in the various official reports of the event.

My main fear is that as the risk of AI infection spreading to domestic
poultry increases, nothing will have been learnt from the experience of FMD
2001. Keepers of small flocks of poultry are glibly told to make
preparations to house their stock where practicable. For most people the
sole purpose of keeping such poultry is so that they can be seen in a free
range environment and many ducks, geese, and chickens have nothing more than
a small, dark shed in which to spend the night during the hours of natural
darkness. Housing such birds for anything more than a day or two is out of
the question.

The answer must be to give these birds as much protection as possible
through vaccination (not withstanding the relatively small risk that they
will become virus shedders if subsequently exposed to real infection with
AI).  This is particularly important when we really have no idea of the
distribution of AI geographically, by wild bird species, or the timescale
for which it is likely to remain, either in Britain or indeed worldwide. We
therefore have a risk of transmission from wild birds to free range poultry
that is quite literally unquantifiable. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous
to say the least.

I hope these comments are of interest.

James Drew