Epidemic vaccine plan splits opinion

April 27, 2001

Leading veterinary academics are divided over whether a vaccination should be used to tackle the foot-and-mouth epidemic, a THES poll has found.

As the government looks set to rule out limited vaccination, the email poll found no consensus on the controversial strategy.

Holders of chairs at all six of the United Kingdom's university veterinary schools were questioned. Of the 18 respondents, four were for a limited vaccination programme, and 13 were against.

Nine argued that such a policy should have been implemented in some form soon after foot-and-mouth was first diagnosed.

One professor said: "The decision not to use vaccination now is the right one. However, vaccination should have been used earlier to create a firewall around hotspots."

One professor, who has been involved in the diagnosis and slaughter of animals, said: "The outbreak is showing all the signs of diminishing at the moment and vaccination would divert valuable resources."

But a third insisted that vaccination was right from an animal health point of view: "The system of international trade that generates these economic conditions (that might argue against vaccination) should be looked at if the consequence is that we do not vaccinate our livestock against infectious diseases."

Two-thirds of the respondents felt the government had not handled the crisis well.

One professor said he was astonished by the lack of detailed logistical thought about disposal immediately after the slaughter policy was chosen. Another complained: "The government was far too slow in calling in the army."

Many pointed to cutbacks in the state veterinary service since the mid-1980s as being behind some of the initial problems.

"The veterinary infrastructure of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been underfunded and undervalued by governments in recent years," one said.

Some felt expertise in infectious diseases had been ignored. "The government only seemed to start listening and providing more resources once they were shown predictive graphs by particular mathematical modellers who have had the ear of government over, for example, BSE," one said.

Twelve professors agreed that veterinary students who have been helping in the frontline would benefit overall from the experience. But one professor said it had been "traumatic for all involved".

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