There are 270 cases rumbling on in the centre of France, predominantly in cattle, where the main threat resides and the predictive models are giving every indication that the disease could return to our shores again this year.
The NFU is urging farmers to talk to their vets and some practices in the south of the country are reported to have already taken orders for vaccine to protect in the peak threat period anticipated to be mid-September.
Speaking after a stakeholder meeting in London, NFU deputy president Minette Batters said: “There is 80 per cent risk of bluetongue infection being here in the late summer which is why the NFU is working with industry stakeholders and government to get meetings across East Anglia and the South of England, and potentially into Wales, to have dialogue with farmers, with the vaccine companies and with the vets so we get the information out to farmers as quickly as possible so they can make decisions on vaccination in mid-July.”
Accepting that the decision had to be made way in advance of knowledge of the severity of the challenge, she added: “Last time there was very strong encouragement from the veterinary practices that you should put that insurance policy in place and I would say it will be the same this time as the risk will be too great.”
Both the vaccine suppliers, MSD and Zoetis, are quick to point out that they will have vaccine available by mid July and in adequate quantity to meet UK demand.
According to MSD marketing director vet Agnes Delauche the vaccine needs to be given as two injections three weeks apart in both sheep and cattle, and then immunity is not established until 21 days afterwards in sheep and 30 days in cattle.
As to price she refused to be drawn but said: “At this point of time we are still negotiating price and the price will be made known to the industry when the product is available.”
She admits they have had to buy in the vaccine from Spain as their own facilities were not able to respond fast enough, and that their partnering company is an established manufacturer for the strain BTV8.
“The predominant strain at this point of time coming from France is BTV8 and not another strain,” she stressed.
“The likelihood of any other strain hitting the UK is barely existent,” she declared. “At the moment there is no other strain circulating close to the UK, and if you look at the Defra map you will see that other strains are far away to the south or to the east in the Balkans.
“The restriction zone comes just north of Paris and hasn’t moved in a couple of weeks and it is still a good way away from Great Britain at this point of time,” she added.