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Email received from Dr Ruth Watkins Sept 2012

I am so glad that Dr Wollaston is talking sense, as a GP she is not a microbiologist but she does not have any illusions about the BCG vaccine which the Badger lobby labour under. On the whole, doctors have to be careful about making claims that are not substantiated but Simon King to my disappointment has no such qualms. I was shocked to hear him talk of the 70% efficacy of the BCG vaccine for badgers then declare vaccinating them would be "job done" on the video his group put out. In fact all these icons of conservation that I admire so much, such as David Attenborough, may also be ready to say the same thing - though I haven't heard them actually say it. They may not believe it for all I know but they are publically opposing the cull of badgers and appear on that same video.

The trial to test whether the BCG vaccine was safe to give to badgers in the wild did not determine the efficacy of tha BCG vaccine. It was not designed to do so. There were no tests to show whether the badgers who were statpak test negative were infected or not - just that they did not have antibody as measured by that test. They may have been infected but not yet have made antibody, or the fall in antibody positivity as compared to a previous year may have been part of annual fluctuations in rates of badger infection and disease with M bovis in that population (their lives are quite short).

The laboratory testing of the vaccine showed no protection against infection of vaccinated badgers (they were careful to be sure the badgers in the lab trial were not previously infected and had time to respond to the BCG vaccine) but the lab trial did show the disease process was modified, less widespread and lower numbers of organism.

If I recall correctly all the vaccinated and infected badgers in the laboratory trial of vaccine did become antibody positive by the statpak test before they were killed for detailed study. So it is possible the vaccination of badgers in the wild had a protective effect for those that aquired infection after vaccination, slowing or even halting the progression of disease (so if they were infected they had not progressed to widespread disease and antibody production) but we do not know the answer to that - the vaccine is known to have this effect in humans too but protection against infection in the first place has never been proved.

Unfortunately no one wants to hear what microbiologists have to say; the only public view of the issue is always the interested parties on either side of the badger debate arguing, both biased.

They are indeed stoking up violence, giving excuse to the extremists.

I am afraid the Trust, of which I am a Trustee, also has no interest at all in what I think - knowing it is not of their own persuasion.

People don't want to hear anything that may not support their point of view.

Simon King said on Newsnight that 25% of the European population of badgers was in the UK - it must be very dense then, as the area they are in is so much smaller than that of NW Europe. However the Badger Trust people are always saying they can't count badgers and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust thru Gordon Mc Glone said they do not know what proportion of badgers they vaccinated. So though the number of badgers is within Simon King's realm of expertise I am not sure how he knows that 25% are in the UK. However culling the badgers in TB hot spots cannot be likely to exterminate them.

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