Ralph Whitlock (1968) THE GREAT CATTLE PLAGUE. John Baker, London. pp 78-80.
Vaccination, the other alternative to the slaughter policy, became a focus for discussion towards the end of November, when the epidemic showed signs of getting out of hand. The Minister of Agriculture came under heavy fire in the Commons, and on November 28th 1967, he announced that he had made arrangements for building up a stock-pile of vaccine, for use if things got any worse. As it happened, the vaccine was not used, which was just as well, for its employment would have been an admission of defeat.
The objections to vaccination are as follows:
1. The problem is similar to that of vaccinating against the common cold. Too many distinct types or strains of virus are involved, and no vaccine will give immunity against more than just a few of them.
2. The immunity given is only temporary. With cattle and sheep it lasts for four months in the first place; for about a year with subsequent injections. The implication is that cattle and sheep would have to be vaccinated twice in the first year, and thereafter annually.
3. This does not mean twice in the first year of the animal's life. The minimum age recommended for the vaccination of calves is six months. The calf is therefore unprotected for the first six months of its life.
4. Between the date of vaccination and the date when immunity is established there is a time lag of from seven to ten days.
5. If the animal has already between infected, the vaccine is ineffective. As the incubation period of the virus is from two to fourteen days, there is no means of knowing whether it is present or not at the time of vaccinition.
6. There is a minority of animals which carry the infection without exhibiting any symptoms. Against these the vaccine would be useless, and they would act as disease carriers.
7. The initial immunity given by vaccination to pigs is only four weeks. Indeed, protecting pigs by vaccine has so far proved an impracticable proposition. Yet pigs are often the type of livestock in which primary outbreaks occur.
In view of all these drawbacks, vaccination can hardly be claimed as an alternative to slaughter.
Nor would it be cheaper. Estimates of the cost of vaccinating all the cattle, sheep, pigs and goats in Britain to give them the best possible protection range from around£20 million to nearly ££100 million annually. Until the 1967-8 epidemic occurred, the average cost of the slaughter policy was about £500,000 a year. So that even an annual recurrence of the huge bill for compensation for animals killed in the great plague - which Heaven forbid! - would be less expensive than annual vaccination.
Where vaccination may have a place is as a limited measure for throwing a cordon around an infected area. If this were done quickly enough, it could, in theory, prevent the spread of the disease, or at least give some measure of control. The speed at which the 1967 virus travelled, however, and the caprice with which it hopped about does not inspire confidence in the value of such a safety zone.
It is worth noting that in most countries where it is practised vaccination, is regarded as a preparation for the slaughter policy. As soon as vaccination has reduced the incidence of the disease to a level sufficiently low for a slaughter policy to be adopted, the Government switches to slaughter.
Because of the gaps in the immunity given by any system of vaccination a policy of vaccination would be regarded by overseas farmers as evidence that foot-and-mouth disease was endemic with us. Immediately the barriers would go up against exports of our livestock. Against this argument it has been pointed out that the French, with the disease endemic though pretty well under control as a rule, manage to keep a good export trade going, even to countries with rigid regulations against the disease. It is true, but it is surely better to have the barriers left down than to have to concoct schemes for getting over them after they have been erected.
Comment: how little have things changed - it is very clear from this that the NFU et al were relying on the arguments from the 1967 epidemic, not appreciating that science had moved on.