DEFRA's report, 'Options for vaccinating cattle against bovine tuberculosis', by the Veterinary Team bTB Programme, Food and Farming Group (last updated 12 July 2007), said that cattle vaccination has potential benefits to reduce prevalence, incidence and spread of bTB in the cattle population. The BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin, the human TB vaccine) was suggested as the lead vaccine candidate in the short to medium term.
DEFRA revealed, several times, in the 2010 consultation document, Bovine Tuberculosis: the Government's approach to tackling the disease and consultation on a badger control policy' (September 2010, para 62), that a vaccination (BCG) for cattle would be licensed in 2012 (with the DIVA test). Professor Glyn Hewinson of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency at Weybridge also confirmed this during the BBC's On the Farm broadcast on 19th December 2010 and again in September 2012 when Hewinson indicated the license had been applied for but we are apparently still years away from cattle vaccination being legalised and actual field trials can't start because of current EU regulations. . This is just not good enough and if the political will existed we could get a derogation..The BCG vaccine will not give 100% protection (estimates range from 50 -70%) and is not perfect – but then neither is the existing skin (or blood) test (estimates range from 70%). Vaccination does not give absolute immunity but it significantly increases natural resistance to the disease and can provide herd immunity. Bearing in mind the average lifespan of cattle, it could therefore be used as the basis for a successful control, rather than eradication, policy. It will be easier for farmers and cheaper in the long term too as cattle would no longer have to be slaughtered needlessly (with subsequent compensation costs) just because they are reactors or unconfirmed reactors to an unreliable skin or blood test.
The stumbling block, we are told, is the EU and procedures involved, which, according to Defra could not be completed until 2015 but more recently this date has changed yet again even further into the distant future. This is not good enough and derogation should be sought NOW so a vaccination programme can be started for cattle as a matter of urgency.
Vaccination has been successful in trials in Ethiopia and Mexico (New Zealand and Argentina too are considering vaccination) where the BCG vaccination can still be used. Countries like Ethiopia insist they cannot afford to keep culling cattle needlessly - can we here in the UK? Interestingly, the BCG vaccination was only made illegal here in the 50's when the skin test became compulsory. This was because vaccinated cattle showed up as reactors to the test.
If cattle are vaccinated there may then be no need to tackle wildlife reservoirs, thereby saving these costs too. In these times of severe financial restraint and public cuts affecting so many people, the onus is on our politicians to choose affordable options. The Government has persistently failed to adequately justify the need for the existing expensive, archaic and draconian bovine TB policy, either on the grounds of human or animal health or even on economic grounds. Change is needed - and now!