Vaccines don't stop spread of farm virus, says report : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Vaccines don't stop spread of farm virus, says report

On day the Blair says UK must return to normal, Army sends in its top general to oversee foot-and-mouth cull

By Steve Connor and Ben Russell

29 March 2001

An emergency vaccination campaign against foot-and-mouth disease would make no difference to the spread of the disease and may even make matters worse, according to a suppressed government report.

The previously unpublished report, carried out five years after the 1967 foot-and-mouth crisis, found that vaccines would have failed to halt the spread of the virus in four-out-of-five outbreaks and may even have made the situation worse. In the fifth case, the evidence was equivocal about the effectiveness of using emergency "ring" vaccination to stem the spread around an infected area similar to the scheme proposed on Tuesday by the Government and authorised yesterday by the European Commission.

Professor Martin Hugh-Jones, who carried out the study as a researcher at the Ministry of Agriculture's Central Veterinary Laboratory at Weybridge in Surrey, said: "Essentially we picked five outbreaks at random and we found in four cases it made no difference to the number of cases and would have just added to the problems."

Details of the report, which was suppressed under the Official Secrets Act, emerged as European veterinary experts authorised Britain to carry out emergency vaccination of 180,000 cattle in Cumbria and Devon in an attempt to halt the spread of the disease.

Other scientists are also unsure about the usefulness of a vaccination campaign, arguing that vaccinated animals can still incubate the virus, and that all inoculated livestock would in any case have to be culled eventually to keep Britain's "disease free" status.

Embarrassment for the Government intensified yesterday as Mr Blair revealed the vast scale of sheep movements that helped to spread the disease. He told MPs that 1.35 million sheep were moved or exported last month and admitted that previous estimates of the trade had been "an understatement".

He said: "If this disease was incubating then, clearly it has been far more widespread than hitherto thought."

The revelation raised fresh questions over the performance and long-term future of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, has admitted that the department had little idea of the scale of the national trade in sheep before the outbreak took hold.

Mr Blair's official spokesman admitted the problem was "beyond the expectations that existed at the outset". But he said the Prime Minister believed the right decisions were made based on the advice given at any one time.

The total number of cases rose by 37 yesterday to 728.

William Hague intensified his attack on the Government's handling of the situation yesterday, raising the case of a qualified vet who offered his services but received no response, despite the Ministry's international appeal for veterinary expertise.

Mr Blair launched a major hearts and minds campaign yesterday to persuade tourists that Britain was not closed for business. But his hopes were dashed last night as it emerged that the German Ministry for Cultural Affairs had advised schools to "stop all trips to England within the near future".

The Government is asking embassies and senior business figures to "bang the drum" for Britain at every opportunity amid fears that investment is under threat.

Professor Hugh-Jones, now professor of epidemiology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said that his findings were an embarrassment to the then Conservative government because it had already decided to establish a vaccine bank, which today's Government is now preparing to use.

"The minister of the day decided that he would lay up a store of vaccine. We proved you didn't need to. Like all official secrets, they are not to defend the country, they are to defend the minister," Professor Hugh-Jones told The Independent.

The report was prepared in response to the official inquiry into the major outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 1967-68, which led to the recommendation that the Government should establish a bank of emergency vaccines against the disease.

Professor Hugh-Jones emigrated to the United States in 1978 and is now a co-ordinator on animal diseases at the World Health Organisation. He took part in the inquiry into the outbreak of anthrax at Yekaterinburg in the former Soviet Union, which was later shown to be the result of an accident at a secret biological weapons factory.

Although he emphasised that the outbreaks in his study were smaller than the present outbreak, he would still not recommend vaccination.

"No. I wouldn't in the normal course of events. If you go about the job properly, you can stop these things in their tracks. There should not have been any delays on slaughter," he said.

Professor Chris Bostock, director of the Institute for Animal Health, which runs the Pirbright Laboratory in Surrey where the emergency foot-and-mouth vaccines are stored, said: "Generally speaking the problem with vaccines is that they don't protect completely against infection. They protect against clinical signs so you won't know that an animal has been infected. It can be replicating the virus and acting as a source of infection for animals that haven't been infected," Professor Bostock said.

"The cost-benefit analysis [of vaccination] would have to take into account the fact that you would be diverting people away from culling," he added. "There is an awful lot of misinformation being put out about vaccination being the answer."

-- Swissrose (, March 29, 2001

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