Trials of a new vaccine for cattle to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) are set to start in England and Wales after a breakthrough by government scientists.
The trials aim to accelerate the planned deployment of a cattle vaccine against the disease by 2025, and are part of a wider disease control strategy including badger vaccination, phasing out the culling of badgers and improving testing.
The disease is one of the most challenging that affects animal health resulting in the annual slaughter of more than 40,000 UK cattle.
However, scientists and politicians say that a cattle vaccination could become a powerful tool in the battle against the disease, following the necessary testing and subsequent approvals to ensure its safety and efficacy.
The field trials will be conducted over the next four years on behalf of Defra and the Welsh and Scottish governments, following 20 years of ground-breaking research into bovine TB vaccines and diagnostic tests.
“Bovine TB is a slow-moving and insidious disease that can cause considerable trauma for farmers as they suffer the loss of highly-prized animals and valued herds,” said Environment Secretary George Eustice.
“This scientific breakthrough is a major step forwards in our battle to see the disease eradicated from this country.
“As wider preventative measures like cattle vaccines are introduced, we will accelerate other elements of our strategy and start to phase out badger culling, as no one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely.”
The UK Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, praised the work of the Animal Plant and Health Agency in developing the vaccine.
She said: “While there is no single way to combat this damaging and complex disease, cattle vaccination is a potential new tool for our multi-pronged approach to tackle it and importantly prevent it, providing vital support to our farming communities.
“Bovine TB presents a global challenge and the UK has harnessed its world-leading science to develop potential solutions such as vaccination and new diagnostic tests that could also be valuable to other countries.”
British Veterinary Association junior vice-president, James Russell, said a viable cattle vaccine used in combination with a validated DIVA test – one that differentiates infected from vaccinated animals – would be a game-changer in the fight to overcome bovine TB.
He said: “These field trials mark the culmination of years of ground-breaking research and efforts by the veterinary scientific community to expand the range of tools available to vets and farmers to tackle bovine tuberculosis.”