Badgers have been blamed for the spread of Tuberculosis for decades; sometimes deservingly and sometimes not.
For cattle, badgers do sometimes pose a threat of spreading TB, and these instances encouraged a UCD scientific research group to administer an oral vaccine to badgers and investigate its impact against bovine tuberculosis in a large scale field trial in Co. Kilkenny.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD, yesterday welcomed the publication of the project’s results.
Commenting on the trial, Minister Creed said “that the results of the trial were very positive in that they demonstrated that the oral vaccination of badgers has a significant protective effect in badgers under natural conditions”.
The findings confirmed the results of earlier experimental vaccine challenge studies where BCG vaccine was delivered to captive badgers by a variety of routes, including oral inoculation.
The findings in the study of a significant protective effect of oral BCG vaccination in badgers under natural conditions, is also consistent with the results of other oral vaccination studies in cattle, deer and wild boar.
The Minister went on to say “that it is my Department's ambition to deploy a full badger vaccination strategy as part of the eradication programme provided that the vaccination of badgers delivers an outcome equivalent to the current badger removal strategy”.
In this regard, the Minister emphasised that the vaccine trial in question related to the protective effect of vaccination against TB in badgers and did not provide any direct evidence of the protective effect of badger vaccination in relation to TB in cattle.
Further trials are currently being conducted in six separate locations throughout the country, involving the vaccination by intramuscular injection, of several hundred badgers over 3 to 4 years, with continuous monitoring of the cattle population to assess the impact of the vaccine on the incidence of the disease in the cattle population.
The outcome of these field trials, the initial results of which are due in 2018, will eventually determine whether the vaccination of badgers delivers an outcome equivalent to the current badger removal strategy.
Minister Creed noted that the report concluded that any vaccination programme would need to be undertaken against a background of an exhaustive investigation of cattle and herd management related factors and take account of related environmental issues.
Furthermore, one of the conclusions to be drawn from the report was that, given the relatively high incidence of TB in the country, it is likely that vaccination alone, even at high coverage levels, would require many years to eradicate the disease in the badger population. However, other studies conducted by the Department have shown that mixed strategies incorporating culling (to reduce badger density/remove infected badgers) and vaccination can be effective and may be a cost effective way of eradicating the disease.
Minister Creed stated that there is currently no TB vaccine licensed for anything other than humans in Ireland and, as mentioned in the report, prior to widespread deployment of oral vaccine containing live BCG, a vaccine will need to be licensed as a veterinary medicine and receive authorisation from regulatory bodies under EU medicines legislation.
He said that his Department is collaborating with UCD and DEFRA in the United Kingdom in carrying out the research needed to prepare a dossier for submission to the licensing authorities in Ireland and the UK for authorisation of a licence for an oral vaccine for badgers.
In addition, research is also being carried out both in Ireland and in the United Kingdom on suitable bait delivery methods for an oral vaccine to ensure that, when such a vaccine is licensed, an effective delivery method is available.
Concluding, Minister Creed said that the report provided valuable evidence that the vaccination of badgers can be an effective mechanism for reducing the incidence of TB in badgers.
He continued “it is my Department’s intention in due course to increase the role of badger vaccination in the TB eradication programme provided that suitable and cost effective vaccine delivery methods can be identified and my Department is satisfied that the vaccination of badgers delivers an outcome equivalent to the current badger removal strategy”.