Vaccination is the way forward

Yorkshire Post Tuesday July 31 2001 (Letters to the Editor) From: Dr Susan Haywood, Keld, Richmond, North Yorkshire

Sir,

I learned with great interest of Robert Benson's recent article "Failure to vaccinate was a misjudgment of monstrous proportions, says expert" (Yorkshire Post, Jul 14).

As a senior veterinary pathologist (Liverpool University) I am in complete agreement with the opinions expressed by Prof. Vernon Wheelock formerly of Bradford University as to the damage caused by the Government's failure to adopt a vaccination policy in the present foot and mouth outbreak.

The failure of the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) and the National Farmers' Union to heed the advice regarding vaccination, of such world authorities on foot and mouth disease (FMD) as Prof. Fred Brown of US Department of Agriculture (formerly deputy head of Pirbright Virus Research Institute,UK), Dr S. Barteling and Dr P. Sutmoller virologists and FMD consultants is breath taking!

We seem to forget that FMD outbreaks are of fairly regular occurrence in many parts of the world such as South Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East and FMD consultants have extensive experience of their control. Stamping out or eradication of infected animals in a confirmed outbreak plus culling of 'in contact' animals has been found only successful in localised outbreaks (S. Barteling). Ring vaccination supported by limited culling has been found to be far and away the most effective method of control in more extensive outbreaks - as occurred in Holland recently.

The objections posed by the NFU (Rob Simpson NFU North Regional spokesman) have no foundation in fact:

The Food Standards Agency has confirmed that the presence of vaccine in the food chain presents no risks to human health. In any case the FMD vaccine is a non-living substance and unable to proliferate in the body. People have consumed great quantities of meat from animals vaccinated against FMD (before disease free status was achieved) on the continent of Europe without any health problems. Moreover vaccination is used on a regular basis for a variety of diseases in domesticated animals; for example, sheep are vaccinated annually against Clostridial infections, lamb dysentery, pulpy kidney, non of which has raised questions of risk to health.

It has been alleged, and is most likely true, that only a concerted campaign by the NFU has created doubt in the minds of consumer and marketing outlets!

The fear that FMD vaccinated animals may harbour the virus and transmit the disease to non vaccinated animals is another misinformation that has helped fuel antagonism against vaccination. Experimental trials carried out in this country and abroad have failed to produce any single instance whereby vaccinated animals re - exposed to the virus transmitted the disease to susceptible animals (F. Brown & S. Barteling). The risk of transmission of infection has no scientific basis.

A third misconception is that vaccination is not always effective. Vaccination against FMD has been shown to be a safe and efficacious means of protecting all known susceptible species against the disease. The FMD vaccine produces immunity in up to 90% of animals vaccinated. No vaccine is 100% effective. Medical opinion has estimated that between 70-80% immunity in a population is sufficient for the control or eradication of viral disease - the virus fails to find a host in which to replicate and so dies out. After all, small pox has been eradicated from the planet using vaccination.

We have to ask ourselves why it is that the NFU has persisted in peddling such untruths. Is it through ignorance of the true facts of the case? Has the NFU become victims of their own propaganda so that they actually believe it? Is there something we don't know -a hidden agenda?

Whatever may be the reasons, it is clear that an organisation insufficiently responsible to establish the full facts on a scientific basis is hardly best placed to influence policy.

Even the much vaunted early return to 'disease free status' is looking decidedly unlikely as the numbers of outbreaks, instead of tailing off as predicted, settle down to a steady state, a situation with all the hall marks of the disease being endemic - in some areas of UK at least.

Before the FMD crisis becomes a catastrophe, let us hope the NFU, together with DEFRA, will swallow their pride, take a long hard look at the situation and vaccinate in the disease hotspots before FMD establishes itself in the pig farming areas of the arable east coast."