Large-scale trials to vaccinate cattle against bovine tuberculosis could take place in the UK within two years, according to Welsh chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop.

Large-scale trials to vaccinate cattle against bovine tuberculosis could take place in the UK within two years, according to Welsh chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop.

Welsh CVO Christianne Glossop has just returned from AfricaIn an interview with Vetsonline, Prof Glossop stressed her commitment to realising cattle vaccination, particularly in light of a recent letter to DEFRA from EU commissioner Tonio Borg, in which he set out the reasons for not vaccinating cattle and laid out a provisional 10-year timeline for the UK to aim at, estimating a licensed vaccine could be available by 2023.

Prof Glossop told Vetsonline: “For a long time I thought we weren’t giving the possibility [of cattle vaccination] much consideration. The pat answers that were given were that it’s not permitted by the EU, we don’t have a licensed vaccine in Britain and we don’t have an approved DIVA test (Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals) and that’s been our position for quite some time. But I’d started thinking we need to question this line…”

Of the letter from commissioner Borg, Prof Glossop said: “The commission has set out a series of steps they believe we need to follow to get to the point of vaccinating cattle over the next 10 years – but that doesn’t mean we won’t get even one cow vaccinated within the next 10 years.”

“We have a plan to start on this year, to help us work towards new legislation in 10 years time, and we’re proposing that work towards trials starts straight away. We could actually be vaccinating cattle in the next couple of years. We’re not quite ready yet, but if we’re going to start vaccination trials then we need to get on with it.”

Prof Glossop’s views have been strengthened after her recent tour of Ethiopia, which she undertook after learning about the country’s cattle vaccination project, a joint-funded scheme by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the UK Government’s Department for International Development.

Ethiopia has more than 50m cattle and bTB is rife. However, unlike in the UK, infected cattle are not slaughtered as the animals are so integral to the livelihood of Ethiopians.

Prof Glossop saw examples of the country’s three main production systems, visiting the pastoral tribesman who herd nearly half the country’s cattle, as well as smallholders and commercial producers. She also learned about the ongoing vaccination project and initial studies, which have shown 60-70% of vaccinated cattle are protected from the disease.      

She said: “It proved there was some benefit but it wasn’t perfect, which is what we also know about the affect of the vaccine in badgers – BCG slows but doesn’t stop the disease.”

Prof Glossop admitted any UK trials would need to involve “many hundreds” of animals in order to present the infection challenge as seen in Ethiopia. However, she is confident the UK now has a clear path set out towards cattle vaccination.

She concluded: “We’ve got our homework, we know what we’re dealing with and that has got to be our starting point. We can talk to the commission all we like [about vaccination] but we have got to turn this talk into some action.”

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