David King on Radio 4 Today Programme Dec 28 :




Radio 4: This weekend it will be three months since the last case of Foot and Mouth. It is a pretty significant date in the outbreak. I have been speaking to Prof David King, the Government's Chief Scientist about the story of Foot and Mouth, and how the outbreak had been handled. Could he say that it was a happy story?


David King: What I was happy to achieve in the FMD outbreak was showing that science in real time could provide a sound basis for policy advice.


Radio 4: Of course some of those involved in it would say that the policy decisions that were taken as a result of that advice might not have been the best. The obvious element in the whole argument is the view of vaccination.


David King: Yes, that was a very controversial view which will continue to be a controversial issue.

Radio 4: But you see, on the vaccination question, the point that is raised by those who want vaccination in some degree is that the decisions weren't made on a scientific basis, they were being influenced particularly by the NFU on economic grounds and because of the sorts of people that the organisation represents and by other factors that weren't pure scientific views. What would you say to those people?


David King: I have of course read those comments and would simply say that they are incorrect and basically untrue. The FMD science group that I setup on the request of the Prime Minister considered the question of vaccination in detail throughout the whole outbreak and produced advice based on their consideration. The only point at which we gave advice was in Mid April that is to use vaccination and that was in a limited regime for those cattle that were overwintered in sheds and still in sheds in Cumbria. We did advise vaccination there and we advised that it should only be operated provided we could get farmer buy in as you cannot vaccinate animals unless farmers are happy for you to do that. Now I went up to Cumbria and flew around and talked to many many farmers and spent the whole week on these discussions before I wrote to the Prime minister and said that we simply wouldn't get the support from the farming community to allow limited vaccination operations. The issue has been discussed in great detail, but many of the important issues that we were faced with have not been dealt with, for example I would be strongly in favour in future of using vaccination if we had smart vaccines developed that would operate quickly, which would if we vaccinated an animal that was already incubating the disease would overcome the disease as many human vaccines do, that would hold onto the animal for more than 6 months, with the current vaccines we would have to revaccinate every 6 months , and if the vaccines were able to produce proteins that would enable us to distinguish a vaccinated animal from an animal that has had foot and mouth disease


Radio 4: But isn't it the case, I think Professor Fred Brown at Plum Island who is an Expert in this field argues that there is a diagnostic test that can tell the difference between an infected animal and a vaccinated animal which is always the problem?


David King: Yes, Fred Brown has produced a test called the Fast Cycler which is based on a very well known technique, a PCR technique, which is a fast routine and we said we cannot use this technique unless it has been validated. That technique has now been proven not to be capable of being validated, in other words the technique gives many negatives for positive cases.


Radio 4: The other problem in people's minds is the connection with BSE in sheep. Are you worried about the possibility of BSE in sheep?


David King: I think we have to be worried about the possibility of BSE in sheep. You will know that this is a very remote possibility but we are worried enough to be making quite a big effort to determine whether there is any possibility at all of there being BSE in the sheep flock. Knowing the situation of BSE in sheep I asked for a briefing from the scientific community involved in examining the possibility of BSE in the sheep flock. It was at that briefing I suggested a DNA test be done on the so called sheep brain pool that as a result turned out to be a cattle brain pool. The point I am making there was what we needed there was the objective view rather than a policy maker who could understand the science being done, and who could understand the points being made.