Defra and livestock industry representatives are in talks with vaccine manufacturers ahead of the probable return of bluetongue to the UK later this year.
With the disease currently present across much of central France, the Animal and Plant Health Protection Agency’s (APHA) latest risk assessment identified infected midges blown across from France to the South East of England as the most likely source of incursion.
It concluded, albeit with a ’high level of uncertainty’, the risk of incursion is:
The prospects depend on successful re-emergence and spread in France this winter and the effectiveness of France’s disease controls over the low vector activity period.
The modelling suggested only in a hot year will an incursion lead to a UK outbreak as early as May, with June more likely on average.
Modelling results also suggested a ‘pre-emptive vaccination level of 80 per cent, 50 per cent or even 25 per cent in bovine and ovine species’ giving full protection by May 1 would have a ‘significant impact’ on the rate of spread of disease.
If the virus was found to be circulating in the UK, movement restrictions would be applied and these would ’have an impact on slowing down the spread from an incursion early in the season’, the APHA assessment said.
But, particularly in unusually hot weather, this alone ‘may not significantly slow down the spread during the vector season’, it added.
Government Deputy Chief Vet Simon Hall and the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) John Blackwell both urged farmers to remain vigilant for signs of bluetongue and to discuss the potential benefits of vaccination with their vets.
There is, however, no vaccine currently available to farmers in the UK.
Given the experience of the last bluetongue outbreak when uptake by farmers did not match expectations, manufacturers will need to be convinced there will be a market before they invest in producing one.
Defra and livestock industry representatives recently met with vaccine manufacturers to address this and discuss potential demand for a vaccine this year.
NFU chief adviser on animal health and welfare, Catherine McLaughlin, stressed the need for things to move quickly in order to ensure vaccines are available in time.
She said: "It is clear we need a vaccine readily available for UK farmers to use before the spring and the onset of warmer, more conducive weather.
“It can take two to three months for vaccine stocks to be made if there is a seed vaccine. If there is not, this process can take about six months."
She added: "Vaccine is effective and we recommend farmers have a conversation with their veterinary surgeon to inform their decision based on their business risk."
Too see the APHA risk assessment, click here