Badger vaccination is cost-effective option: New report calls for strategic action from Government

Tuesday 19th August 2014

Badger vaccination cpt Tom Marshall

Vaccination schemes are being demonstrated as a practical, cost-effective option in dealing with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in badgers - prompting renewed calls for Government leadership and industry support.

It is vital that we find the right mechanisms to control this disease and the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find an effective, long-term solution 

Ahead of the Government’s badger culls starting in Somerset and Gloucestershire for the second year, The Wildlife Trusts are calling for a nationally coordinated, and funded, badger vaccination strategy to be delivered in conjunction with measures to tackle the disease in cattle.  

The conservation organisation’s badger vaccination report, published today, outlines the progress of 10 badger vaccination schemes over the past three years.  These schemes have seen vaccinations given on Wildlife Trust nature reserves and privately-owned land, in partnership with farmers, vets and other landowners. 

The report includes lessons learned from activity so far, as well as a detailed description of the vaccination process including costs (£380 per dose administered/£998 per km2).  Cost of delivery is variable and depends on the size, nature and accessibility of the sites involved.  First year costs are generally much higher than ongoing costs due to training, certification and capital equipment requirements.  Vaccination across large areas of land or adjoining land units will reduce delivery costs if equipment and resources can be shared, and is expected to provide greater disease control benefits within badger populations.

The report states that, although offering the most effective approach to dealing with bovine TB in badgers, vaccination represents only one element of an overarching strategy to reduce prevalence of the disease in cattle, and should therefore be delivered alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures.

The Wildlife Trusts believe a coordinated programme of badger vaccination can make a viable contribution to the Government’s bTB eradication strategy by reducing transmission of bTB between badgers and between badgers and cattle.  Vaccination reduces the severity of the disease, the shedding of bacteria from infected individual badgers and therefore the disease’s prevalence in badger populations.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“We have been working on the issue of bovine TB (bTB) and its links to badgers for many years.  We work very closely with the farming community, as well as being significant farmers and landowners in our own right, and are very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes.  Culling badgers is not the answer; it won’t significantly reduce disease prevalence in cattle and could even make the situation worse, due to the perturbation effect where the disease is spread by badgers moving between setts post-cull.

“It is vital that we find the right mechanisms to control this disease and the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find an effective, long-term solution.

“We firmly believe that vaccination offers the most effective, long-term and sustainable approach to bTB in badgers, and there is a strong scientific evidence base supporting this view.  However, addressing the disease in badgers can at best make a limited contribution to the eradication of bTB in cattle.

“Cattle to cattle transmission represents the most important route of disease spread, so it is vital that the main focus of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bTB remains on cattle measures, as this is where the most significant disease-control gains will be made.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe a comprehensive package of cattle measures include:

  • Better biosecurity, or disease risk management: all possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission on-farm
  • Stricter movement controls: to minimise the risk of spreading disease when cattle are transported
  • Improved TB testing: to increase detection of the disease - currently, many infected cattle are missed
  • Cattle vaccination: prioritise the development of a cattle vaccine and the necessary changes to EU regulation to permit its commercial deployment

 

Notes for editors:

  • For more information and to see what action you can take please see http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/badgers
  • Find out about badger vaccination and donate to a Wildlife Trust vaccination project at www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals/badgers
  • On 13 March, 219 MPs backed a motion calling on the Government to drop culling and instead vaccinate badgers
  • On 28 February, the BBC reported the culls had failed on effectiveness and humaneness
  • On 14 February revised Government statistics showed the overall number of UK cattle herds infected with bTB in 2012-13 fell by 3.4%, rather than increasing by 18% as previously stated
  • In September 2013, over 304,000 people had signed an e-petition against a badger cull

Parliamentary debate and vote on the badger cull
Ahead of the vote in Parliament in March 2014, The Wildlife Trusts, and other organisations, contacted MPs to encourage them to attend a debate in the House of Commons (13 March) and vote in favour of halting the cull and pursuing an alternative strategy for dealing with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in badgers.  At that time, The Wildlife Trusts strongly urged Government to drop culling from its bTB strategy and commission an independent expert review to examine how badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine can better tackle bovine TB.

Pilot badger culls failed
The pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire both failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’.  The removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period was not achieved.  Despite a three week extension in Somerset and five weeks in Gloucestershire, the percentages achieved were 65% and 39% respectively.  It is possible for the bovine TB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’.  This causes individuals to range beyond their usual territory and come into contact with neighbouring animals, increasing the risk of disease transmission.

Revised bTB statistics
In February, the Government’s justification for a badger cull in England was seriously undermined by Defra’s release of revised bTB statistics.  These showed that the overall number of UK cattle herds infected with bTB in 2012-13 fell by 3.4%, rather than increasing by 18% as previously stated. The Government’s revised statistics are here.  The greatest reduction in bTB in 2012-13 was seen in Wales, where an independent strategy of strict cattle measures coupled with badger vaccination has achieved a significant 23.6% decrease in the number of infected cattle herds – without culling badgers.  In contrast, bTB incidence in England increased by 1.7% during the same period.

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Tagged with: Species, Badgers; bovineTB