Vaccination of the UK’s calves and sheep against key livestock diseases has risen to one of the highest levels in seven years.
With use of vaccines key in a number of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance’s (RUMA) targets task force goals for antibiotic use published in 2017, this is seen as a sign that UK farmers and vets are continuing to engage in what has become a global effort to reduce antibiotic use – and therefore antibiotic resistance.
The analysis of data in an AHDB report shows almost 10 million doses of vaccine were sold for use in cattle in 2018.
Derek Armstrong, lead vet at AHDB, says the big rise has been in vaccines to protect against pneumonia in calves, a condition many vets would otherwise end up treating with antibiotics.
“Sales here have risen 35 per cent since 2011, with two-fifths of animals receiving vaccinal protection in 2018. Vaccines for infectious bovine rhinotracheitis have also gone up 50 per cent over the same period.”
Other good news is that one in five breeding cows now receive vaccination for calf enteritis, protecting the calf through passive transfer of antibodies in her colostrum.
But the data also shows vaccine use to prevent bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) fell to its lowest level since 2011.
Mr Armstrong says: “However, this could be a positive sign that ‘BVD free’ herds are now concentrating on biosecurity rather than vaccination.
"Either way it is something the industry needs to keep an eye on – especially as BVD is a disease which impacts the immune system and can lead to bacterial infections which then need antibiotic treatment.”
The UK sheep sector also saw the highest uptake of vaccines in over six years with almost 39m doses sold last year.
Dr Fiona Lovatt, chairwoman of the sheep antibiotic guardian group, says for the first time since 2012, more than two-thirds of all sheep which should be vaccinated against clostridial diseases were vaccinated, and more than half were vaccinated against pasteurella.
Dr Lovatt says: “This is a positive step in the right direction as we try to shift behaviour away from treating disease to planning ahead to prevent disease and protect the flock.”
Despite issues with vaccine supply, use of vaccines to protect against abortion have also risen steadily since 2013.
“However, further uptake could deliver significantly improved lambing percentages on-farm. It is still only one-in-four first-time breeding ewes that is protected against toxoplasma, and two in every five against enzootic abortion.”
And Dr Lovatt adds that while sales of foot rot vaccine had been steadily climbing since 2013, there was a small drop in uptake from 15 per cent of breeding animals in 2017 to 13 per cent in 2018, which may have been due to the dry summer.
“Foot rot vaccination is one of the important elements of the five-point plan to control lameness and a key RUMA task force target; more shepherds should consider making it part of their lameness control strategy.
“Overall, it is not essential for every flock to use every available vaccine, but there is definitely a case for every shepherd to plan for disease control alongside their vet as they reflect on the risks their flock faces.
“For example, foot rot vaccine should always be considered if more than 2 per cent of the flock is lame with foot rot at any one time,” says Dr Lovatt.