James Naughtie interviews David King on the Today Programme, Sept 6th 2001

transcript from

James Naughtie: The Chief Scientist, David King, today will be speaking at the British Association Conference in Glasgow - and of course, all eyes and ears are on him...what will he say for example about vaccination and what he expects will happen in the course of the latest outbreak.

I spoke to Professor King this morning. I asked him first of all if he had any new scientific weapons against the current outbreak in Northumberland

Prof King: What's happening up in the North East at the moment, in Northumbria (sic) outbreak is disease in sheep that has been stirred up by cattle being mixed in with the sheep what we are still taking up are infected premises from the point of that initial farm breaking out. All of the farms we are taking out now were already incubating the when we came across the first key infected premise in the area. Now in terms of "weapons" belief is that the Northumbrian outbreak will be snuffed fairly quickly...

JN: But isn't it possible that what happened in Northumberland could happen elsewhere. Isn't it a warning?

PK: Absolutely, I would say to you that we had anticipated outbreaks of this kind. We've been doing serological testing up and down the percentage of positives- that is sheep that are discovered to be ill where...where farmers hadn't noticed it - very small .045% at the moment, so the good news is that a very large number of our farms are clear of the disease but we can anticipate or two further outbreaks of this kind.

JN: Er..Looking at the possibility of that happening, those who have always argued for a limited vaccination programme - not as a panacea, but as something that would help in the fight - say that it should now be considered urgently as one of the weapons that needs to be used. Do you agree with that?

DK: mean the...the phrase're keeping vaccination under review is absolutely correct. My science group has been meeting weekly since the outbreak ..we met daily in the first six weeks ..but since then at least weekly, and we do keep it under review, we keep attempting to model the use of let me tell you that have not myself felt inclined to go back and recommend vaccination in cases of this kind.

JN: Why not?

DK: Much the better way of dealing with ... er.. an outbreak of the kind in Northumbria is exactly what we're doing. Once the disease has become rampant in an area such as Northumbria, vaccination wouldn't stop it... it's under review as a weapon?...

DK: It's under review and I have, once before, um ...recommended vaccination. That was in April when cattle in sheds were due to be let out onto pastureland.

JN: Why didn't that happen?

DK: It didn't happen for ..two reasons...two reasons...I...I recommended to the Prime Minister it should be used then provided that manpower was not taken away from the cull, because the cull is the major way of keeping it under control but secondly, that farmers cooperated ....

JN: ..and the NFU wouldn't have it.

DK: Well, farmers' cooperation is required because if a team of vaccinators go onto a farm and the farmer says "No" and then he allows his cattle to spread around the farm it becomes extremely difficult...

JN: So just to get it clear, Professor King, you to the Prime Minister earlier this year that you believed that vaccination was one of the weapons that could be used but only with the consent of the farming community and it was because of opposition from farmers' leaders that it wasn't used...

DK: The Prime Minister gave week, in fact it was a short time period, because the cattle were going to be let out to pastureland. I spoke to farmers, I went up to Cumbria, I spoke at length to members of the farmers' unions and the end of the week had to report back to the Prime Minister not be sure of farmer cooperation on this.

JN: Do you think if that had been approved at the time, things might have taken a different course?

DK: Well...that's a very good question, Jim, because I am not absolutely sure that it..that they would have were planning only to vaccinate cattle in sheds. Um this is a feasible operation because you can get to cattle in sheds obviously very easily it was a fairly limited operation, and these were cattle in Cumbria. As a matter of fact, of the cattle in sheds went down with the disease before they were let out to pastureland, rather to our surprise.

JN: So it might have helped but you can't be sure?

DK: It might have helped but we really can't be sure. JN: Professor King, Thank you.