A global shortage of BCG vaccine is further compounding the limitations of deploying vaccination to combat bovine TB, according to Farming Minister George Eustice.
In response to the ‘on-going constraints with the global supply of BCG vaccine’, the World Health Organisation has called on all countries to reduce BCG vaccine wastage to ensure countries and individuals who most need the vaccine receive priority.
Public Health England recently issued guidance to the medical profession on how the vaccine should he prioritised.
Mr Eustice drew attention to the shortage as he outlined the barriers to using vaccination against bTB at the launch of the Defra-industry TB biosecurity campaign at Hartpury College, in a Gloucestershire bovine TB hotpsot.
In cattle, the vaccine only provides protection ‘at about 70 per cent’ and he said it would take ‘many years of field trials’ before it could be used, he said.
But he said there ‘may be a role for badger vaccination’ in parts of England. "We are doing some pilots in the Edge Area to try and slow the spread of disease," he said.
“But is important to recognise the vaccine does not cure badgers that have already had the disease and will only protect around 60 to 70 per cent of badgers, which would probably need to vaccinated every year."
“Vaccination is no panacea and there is also a worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine.”
But Mr Eustice highlighted the Government’s commitment to controlling disease in wildlife through culling, which this year took place in three areas - Somerset, Gloucestershire and, for the first time, Dorset.
“We are clear we will need to roll out further culls,” he said.
“It is highly contentious. We recognise that but sometimes you have to do the right thing even if it is not popular.
"We are clear any coherent strategy to eradicate bovine TB must include tackling the reservoir of disease in the wildlife population.”
Defra was ‘constantly redefining and improving cattle movement controls, he added, highlighting the recent consultation on introducing compulsory post-movement TB testing and the introduction of six-monthly surveillance tests in Cheshire.
But he stressed that none of the measures contained in Defra’s 25-year TB strategy were ‘100 per cent effective’, also highlighting the flawed TB diagnostics, with the skin test at best only 80 per cent effective.
“That is why we have to pursue a range of options, which taken together will help roll back this disease,” Mr Eustice said.
Mr Eustice revealed he had made a subtle change to TB policy in England following heart-breaking first-hand experience of the disease in his family’s South Devon herd.
The Farming Minister explained how the herd, which had previously managed to steer clear of the disease, succumbed after taking on some extra grazing during last year's dry summer.
"When they came back they found a number of them had got TB," he said.
"The tragic thing is many of these good cows were in-calf. One of the cows was called Rose, which my father described as one of the best South Devon cows he had ever seen.
He explained Rose had lost her calf the previous year and how, at his father's request, the vet had given ‘as much leeway as they could’ to allow her to calf before being removed for slaughter.
Eventually they could leave it no longer and she was induced but the calf did not survive.
“Rose was taken away to be slaughtered having never had a living calf. This is the kind of tragedy that is being played out up and down the land in this country and that is why we have to get on top of this disease,” he said.
He announced he had subsequently changed the instructions handed to vets dealing with breakdowns.
"Where cows were at an advanced stage of having calves, provided they are isolated, they will be allowed to stay on farms until they have had their calf," he said.