Section on Vaccination

26. The power to introduce vaccination in Wales rested jointly with MAFF/DEFRA and the National Assembly: it could not be implemented without the Assembly's agreement.

27. The National Assembly was heavily reliant on the SVS and the Chief Scientist for advice on vaccination. What was clear from the start, however, was that Wales is more reliant on exporting sheepmeat than other parts of GB: approximately 40% of Welsh sheepmeat production is exported in a normal year. The loss of export markets would therefore hit Welsh farmers harder than those elsewhere in GB. The farming unions in Wales were very concerned that access to export markets should be regained as quickly as possible. Given the state of Welsh farm incomes, this was not a matter of profit, but rather one of survival. To the extent that vaccination would under Office International des Epizooties (OIE) rules delay the resumption of exports, this was a powerful argument for seeing vaccination as a reserve option. The lifting of the ban on sheepmeat exports to other EU countries from much of Wales in November 2001 can be seen as a vindication of the approach we took.

28. It is also important to recognise that there was more than one vaccination option. The amount of vaccine available to the UK Government meant that vaccinating all susceptible livestock was not a practical option at any stage in the crisis. Ring vaccination would have been possible, but the advice from the Chief Scientist, based on modelling, was that the contiguous cull was a more effective option.

29. The issue of vaccination arose particularly in Wales in July and August, when the disease was detected in the hefted flocks on the open mountain land of the Brecon Beacons. Hefted sheep are sheep in family groups which have been accustomed over a period of years to grazing in a particular area, or heft, with minimal shepherding. Re-establishing hefted flocks requires intensive shepherding over a period of 5 to 10 years. There was therefore considerable concern over the culling of hefted flocks, although it did happen in Scotland and England as well as on the Beacons

30. In recognition of the hefted nature of the sheep, the policy adopted was initially to cull only after testing had confirmed disease in groups of sheep. While this was happening, the option of vaccinating all sheep in the Brecon Beacons National Park was advocated by the National Foot and Mouth Group and by the Eppynt Action Group. The National Assembly Agriculture Department sought advice from the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) and the Chief Scientist on the option, and the option was discussed with leading advocates of the vaccination option from the pressure groups at meetings in both Cardiff and London. A key problem was that the decision on whether to cull or vaccinate had necessarily to be taken initially in a situation of very limited information on the spread of disease on the Beacons. If the disease had existed across the National Park, then the balance of argument would have been against the conventional approach to culling, but the epidemiological evidence suggested from the outset that the outbreak was focused in one area. The Welsh Operations Directorate put in place an extensive testing programme which eventually validated this belief. While this was happening, the approach to culling was intensified, by culling contiguous hefts to those which had been proved to be infected, to get ahead of the disease. In addition, thought was given to what should be done if disease did prove to be more widespread than the identified focal point. 21km of fencing were erected across the open moorland, with the support of the local graziers and the National Park, to act as barriers to the potential spread of disease if the worst case scenario had prevailed. In addition, the Assembly's Agriculture Department identified two alternative options for implementation if testing showed the disease to be widespread across the park. One was vaccination; the other, culling while preserving a nucleus of sheep from contiguous hefts, to facilitate the subsequent recovery of farming. Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) advised against the vaccination option, but did agree that Wales should adopt the latter option, should the disease spread be wider than anticipated. In the event, that reserve option never had to be implemented, as the initial culling stamped out the disease.

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