Vaccination will be an important tool to help control bovine TB in the future.
But the evidence suggests it will not work on its own – and where both cattle and badgers are concerned, a realistic programme remains a number of years away.
Vaccination won’t work on an animal that already has bovine TB, and no country in the world where wildlife carries the disease has eradicated it in cattle without tackling it in wildlife too.Vaccination and cows
There are calls for cows to be vaccinated against bTB.
However there is no legal vaccine available. Currently the only option is the BCG vaccine (Mycobacterium bovis Bacille Calmette-Guérin – ref 1,2,3,4,5).
The problem is that at present it is impossible to distinguish between a BCG-vaccinated and TB-infected cow. And for this reason it is currently illegal under EU law to vaccinate cattle with the BCG jab.
Work is underway to devise a DIVA test (ref 6,7,8) - a test that can Differentiate between Infected and Vaccinated Animals. But even when this has been fully developed, it will need to go through EU and international approval.
The upshot is that most estimates say it will be ten years before vaccinating cattle is a realistic possibility (9).
On top of that, there's evidence to suggest that the BCG vaccine and DIVA test will not eradicate bovine TB on their own. A recent scientific study (10) concluded that the efficacy of the BCG vaccine in cattle was between 56% and 68%.
We know the BCG vaccination reduces the progression, severity and excretion of TB, resulting in reduced transmission between animals, but it is not perfect. And for any vaccine to eradicate a disease it is necessary to ensure that 80% of the target population are immunised. The current BCG vaccine just does not does not shape up.
Scientists have said that vaccination has to be used in combination with other measures, which must include dealing with the disease in badgers. You can read more about bovine TB and cattle vaccination on the Defra website.
Vaccination and badgers
Most voices in the debate, including the NFU, support the use of badger vaccination in areas on the edge of the disease spread to help stop bTB spreading further.
Farmers are getting involved in badger vaccination projects in these areas because they recognise that vaccination could have a role to play in stopping disease spread.
The Government has also set up the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) to support badger vaccination projects in areas on the edge of the disease spread that are thought to be most at risk of the disease spreading from the endemic areas of the South West and West Midlands. However, in December 2015 the Government announced that all badger vaccination projects in England were being suspended due to a global shortage of the BCG vaccine.
The only vaccine currently available for use on badgers is in an injectable form – and that presents problems.
You need to cage-trap the badgers to vaccinate them. And you have to it annually for period of at least five years.
The process is costly and needs to be carried out by people who have been on accredited courses. Every trap has to be visited early in the morning, every day.
The Welsh Assembly Government is carrying out a five-year badger vaccination programme in the Pembrokeshire hotspot area. In December 2015 the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, announced that the badger vaccination project in Wales was being suspended due to a global shortage of the BCG vaccine.
In May 2015, the report on the third year of the programme was published and showed that 1,316 badgers had been vaccinated at a total cost of £929,540, or approximately £706 per badger. During the second year of the programme 1,352 badgers were vaccinated at a total cost of £926,784, or approximately £685 per badger. The first year of the programme saw 1,424 badgers vaccinated at a total cost of around £943,000, or approximately £662 per jab.
There are also question marks over the efficacy of the vaccine.
It will not cure a sick badger, one which is already infected with TB.
The science suggests the vaccine is most effective in very young animals, and less so in older subjects (11). Young badgers spend their early weeks in the sett, making it impossible to trap and vaccinate them and putting them at risk of infection before they emerge.
There is also no evidence as yet which shows that vaccinating a proportion of the badger population actually results in a reduced risk to cattle.
An oral bait vaccine is likely to offer the most successful route forwards. But this option is still some years away from becoming a part of any badger control plan, because there is no licensed or proven oral vaccine currently available. The Government's TB eradication strategy for England suggests 2019 as the earliest when an oral badger TB vaccine may be deployed, subject to research breakthrough and authorisation.
You can read more about bovine TB and badger vaccination here.
(1) Wedlock D.N., Denis M., Vordermeier H.M., Hewinson R.G., Buddle B.M. (2007). Vaccination of cattle with Danish and Pasteur strains of Mycobacterium bovis BCG induce different levels of IFN gamma post-vaccination, but induce similar levels of protection against bovine tuberculosis. Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 118, 50-8.
(2) Wedlock D.N., Aldwell F.E., Vordermeier H.M., Hewinson R.G., Buddle B.M. 2011. Protection against bovine tuberculosis induced by oral vaccination of cattle with Mycobacterium bovis BCG is not enhanced by co-administration of mycobacterial protein vaccines. Vet Immunol Immunopathol.144(3-4):220-7. Epub 2011 Sep 29.
(3) Buddle, B.M.,Wilson, T., Aldwell, F.E., de Lisle, G.W., Vordermeier, H.M., Hewinson, R.G., Wedlock, D.N. 2011. Low oral BCG doses fail to protect cattle against an experimental challenge with Mycobacterium bovis. Tuberculosis 91: 400-405.
(4) Vordermeier H.M., Villarreal-Ramos B., Cockle P.J., McAulay M., Rhodes S.G., Thacker T., Gilbert S.C., McShane H., Hill A.V., Xing Z., Hewinson R.G. 2009. Viral booster vaccines improve Mycobacterium bovis BCG-induced protection against bovine tuberculosis. Infect Immun. .Aug;77(8):3364-73. Epub 2009 Jun 1. Erratum in: Infect Immun. 2011 May;79(5):2134.
(5) Hope J.C., Thom M.L., McAulay M., Mead E., Vordermeier H.M., Clifford D., Hewinson R.G., Villarreal-Ramos B. 2011. Identification of surrogates and correlates of protection in protective immunity against Mycobacterium bovis infection induced in neonatal calves by vaccination with M. bovis BCG Pasteur and M. bovis BCG Danish. Clin Vaccine Immunol. 2011 Mar
(6) Whelan A.O., Clifford D., Upadhyay B., Breadon E.L., McNair J., Hewinson G.R., Vordermeier H.M. 2010. Development of a skin test for bovine tuberculosis for differentiating infected from vaccinated animals. J. Clin. Micro. 48, 3716-3181.
(7) Vordermeier M., Gordon S.V., Hewinson R.G. 2011a. Mycobacterium bovis antigens for the differential diagnosis of vaccinated and infected cattle. Vet Microbiol 151(1-2):8-13.
(8) Vordermeier M., Jones G.J., Whelan A.O. 2011b. DIVA reagents for bovine tuberculosis vaccines in cattle. 2011b. Expert Rev Vaccines.
(9) Letter, EU health commissioner Tonio Borg, Jan 2013
(10) Field Evaluation of the Efficacy of Mycobacterium bovisBacillus Calmette-Gue´rin against Bovine Tuberculosis in Neonatal Calves in Ethiopia. Gobena Ameni, Martin Vordermeier, Abraham Aseffa, Douglas B. Young and R. Glyn Hewinson.
(11) Bacillus Calmette-Gue´ rin vaccination reduces the severity and progression of tuberculosis in badgers (published Dec 1 2012). Mark A. Chambers, Fiona Rogers, Richard J. Delahay, Sandrine Lesellier, Roland Ashford, Deanna Dalley, Sonya Gowtage, Dipesh Dave, Si Palmer, Jacky Brewer, Timothy Crawshaw, Richard Clifton-Hadley, Steve Carter, Chris Cheeseman, Chris Hanks, Alistair Murray, Kate Palphramand, Stephane Pietravalle, Graham C. Smith, Alexandra Tomlinson, Neil J. Walker, Gavin J. Wilson, Leigh A. L. Corner, Stephen P. Rushton, Mark D. F. Shirley, George Gettinby, Robbie A. McDonald and R. Glyn Hewinson