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an assessment of the threat to Scotland.
Royal Society of Edinburgh publishes a
DSc, FRCPEd, FRCPath, FInstBiol, FRSE
Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie,
Filed 26 Sep 07
Avian Influenza (AI) HPAI H5N1 is a highly virulent
virus as far as birds are concerned: especially poultry and water
birds, including all species of swans and geese, and some species
of ducks, waders and gulls.
The first outbreak of Avian Influenza (AI) virus
HPAI H5N1(referred to throughout this article as H5N1) originated
in Southern China and was detected in Hong Kong in 1997. This was
followed in 2003 by an epidemic that spread like wildfire through
poultry in most Asian countries. By July 2005 the disease had reached
Kazakhstan and Russia, and then Turkey, Romania and Croatia. The
first case in the European Union occurred in Greece. The virus then
spread on to Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Poland
the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Sweden.
The first case of H5N1 in the UK was the quarantine
centre with the parrot and 50 'finches' which were part of a shady
import business. in Scotland H5N1 was identified when a dead swan
was found on 29th March 2006, washed up on the shore at Cellardyke,
a small coastal village in the East Neuk of Fife. The dead bird
was spotted by a villager who happened to know a biologist at St
Andrews University, who informed the Animal Health authorities.
They established, a week later, that the swan carried avian Influenza
virus H5N1 (1).
Not only is the severe threat to the poultry industry
recognised, but the world is alerted to the possibility of the virus
mutating, or acting in partnership with other viruses, so as to
jump the species gap from bird to man. Deaths of people in the Far
East who had come into frequent and close contact with birds suffering
from H5N1, although uncommon, has been well documented. The fear
remains that H5N1 (or possibly a related virus) might trigger another
world influenza pandemic.
Kelly Bronze turkeys at Home Farm Condover, Shropshire, UK
©Mike Hayward/ Alamy
On March 1st the Royal Society (the UK national
academy of science) and the Academy of Medical Sciences (an independent
academy that deals with public policy issues in medicine and healthcare)
jointly launched a study into the use of science in UK preparations
for an influenza pandemic. The result was an impressive and highly
informative report published in November 2006 (2).
For their part the Royal Society of Edinburgh
(RSE) set up a working group in October 2006. Its brief was to assess
the threat of avian influenza to Scotland. It has just published
its report (3), on 17th September
2007. Regrettably, while being informative in some important areas,
in too many it makes disappointing reading. In some areas it is
potentially very damaging.
A key feature in the management of any outbreak
of infection is rapid and accurate diagnosis. In veterinary medicine
this is so whether the infection in question is a highly pathogenic
subtype of AvIan Influenza (HPAI), Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)
or Bluetongue (BT): all of which, among others, currently threaten
Scotland's livestock. Just as they do in many other parts of the
But the two words "rapid diagnosis"
do not get a mention anywhere in the nine pages of the RSE Report.
Perhaps the length of time the members of the group took to deliberate
on the issue is indicative of their own apparent lack of urgency.
To quote the RSE report:
"If the local veterinary surgeon suspects
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), the regional State Veterinary
Service (SVS) will be alerted and will visit the farm. If the
SVS also suspects HPAI, samples of dead birds will be sent to
the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) at Weybridge for laboratory
Weybridge is in Surrey. It is not an easy place
to get to. A personal visit, starting from Comrie in Perthshire,
to the neighbouring Institute of Animal Health Laboratories at Pirbright
was proof enough of that. There are many more remote parts of Scotland
than Comrie, which has relatively quick access to the airports of
Edinburgh or Glasgow. After that, there is the problem of getting
from Heathrow or Gatwick to Pirbright.
Ironically, just prior to the finding of the dead
H5N1 infected Cellardyke swan, the Scottish State Veterinary Service
(SVS) ran a trial in Orkney in which its AI contingency plans were
put into operation. The local newspaper, the Press &J ournal,
found the situation hilarious, in recording the efforts and the
misfortunes of getting the samples to Weybridge (4).
Roger Breeze, who was previously Director of the
USA Department of Agriculture at Plum Island and now CEO Centaur
Science Group in Washington DC, wrote an interesting follow-up to
the Orkney episode (5). Centaur
Science Group is a company that specialises in anti-terrorism measures.
Understandably, the USA authorities are fearful that viruses, in
one form or another, may be in the terrorists' armoury. Central
to defence against such an attack is rapid diagnosis, whatever the
specific nature of the virus: be it FMD, AI, or other type of biological
warfare, such as anthrax.
In his letter to Land-Care he, a graduate of Glasgow
University, highlighted the opportunity Scotland had to lead the
way, with setting up RAP|D PCR machines in a number of centres throughout
Scotland. He stressed that there are plenty of Scots who are accustomed
to using such technology and who could learn how to use a RAPID
PCR machine in an afternoon. As the samples are totally inactivated
prior to testing without influencing the results, the facilities
required do not have to be at the highest level in terms of biosecurity.
He suggested that such machines be placed at Dumfries, Edinburgh,
Glasgow, Oban, Perth, Aberdeen, Kyle of Lochalsh, Inverness and
Thurso. In addition to performing rapid tests for exotic diseases
such as FMD, AI, classical swine fever and Newcastle Disease the
machine can detect all the common animal disease (excepting BSE
But according to the RSE report of September 2007,
all samples still have to be transported to Weybridge in Surrey
after postmortem examination at any of the eight regional Veterinary
Laboratories that exist in Scotland (Thurso, Inverness, Aberdeen,
Perth, Edinburgh, St Boswell's, Ayr and Dumfries). They are also
well equipped private laboratories in Scotland - such as Biobest,
at the Edinburgh Technopole - that specialise in veterinary virology.
But they are not licenced by the Government to do diagnostic work
on FMD, AI, BT etc, although they could easily be if the Government
While Weybridge VLA is using Real Time PCR (RT-PCR)
technology in testing for viruses such as AI, the fact that all
samples throughout the UK have to be transported there is not helpful.
There should, at the very least, be one laboratory in Scotland that
can be licenced to provide this essential facility. But eight of
these machines, one located in each of Scotland's regional veterinary
laboratories, is what is really wanted.
Magnus Linklater, writing in The Times of 12th
April 06, described the Cellardyke event and its implications with
characteristic clarity (6).
Now let us consider what the RSE Working Group
on AI has to say about what happens when suspected samples from
Scotland eventually get to Weybridge. To quote:
"At VL|A Weybridge, virus detection in
the first instance is by real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).
If negative, both the sender of the samples and the regional SVS
office are informed, and no further testing is carried out. If
there is evidence of A| virus, attempts are made to isolate it
and to type it by haemagglutinationinhibition testing and DNA
sequencing before notifying a positive result. Pathogenicity tests
are carried out by injecting day-old chicks with the recovered
There is not a mention of lateral flow technology
that could be used on-site. While it does not have the sensitivity
of RT-PCR, lateral flow technology in simple kit form could be useful
on call out to any dead or very sick bird. There is not a mention
of how the identification of known AI types, particularly H5N1,
could be speeded up on account of the fact that their molecular
characteristics have been so well established.
The RSE Working Group would have done well to
have picked up the clear statement in the Royal Society Report,
available just after the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) started
its deliberations, concerning the UK's high-containment laboratory
facilities. While much diagnostic work could be done in the absence
of such facilities, they are nonetheless essential as reference
laboratories and for research. To quote the RS/AMS Report:
"There are six laboratories in the UK equipped
to work with highly pathogenic avian influenza which in some cases
are ageing and require significant improvement work. Those organisations
with suitable animal facilities for handling highly pathogenic
influenza-infected poultry and birds are the Institute of Animal
Health (IAH) Compton and VLA Weybridge. It is anticipated that
the merger of the VLA Weybridge and the IAH facilities for avian
influenza research will result in an overall loss of facilities
for work with highly pathogenic avian influenza. It is essential
that the option to expand these facilities should be investigated
The Royal Society (London) recommendation was
prophetic. The leak of FMD virus from the poorly maintained complex
at Pirbright has had a devastating knock-on effect in terms of Scotland's
livestock industry and the commercial enterprises that support it.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh Report would have
done well to have pressed for rapid diagnostic facilities to be
available within Scotland, and also for a high-containment facility
to be based in Scotland. But it did neither. These are serious omissions.
Vaccination and EC Rules
Vaccination gets about a half a page within the
one page section of the RSE Report headed
"Prevention and control of Avian Influenza".
For what is supposed to be a distillate, produced
as a result of profound contemplation for a year by a group of independent
experts, it beggars belief.
It starts off thus in para 7.5:
"Vaccines offering protection from H5N1
infection are available commercially. Those licenced for use in
Europe contain inactivated virus; these vaccines require to be
administered by intramuscular injection, with two doses, 23 weeks
apart, required for maximum protection. Such vaccines have been
used in some countries, e.g. Mexico, for more than ten years without
other control methods. However, while they prevent disease they
do no eliminate the virus and it may then remain undetected in
flocks with the risk of spread to other birds."
So the threat that vaccinated animals, in this
case of poultry vaccinated against H5N1, could act as carriers spreading
infection raises its head yet again. Yet experience in the field
denies this (7). Perhaps the Working
Group were influenced by the brief publication from Professor Mark
Woolhouse and his colleagues at Kings Buildings, Edinburgh (8).
In a study based entirely on hypothetical epidemiological modelling,
using input data that must be questionable, they warned of a
"Silent spread of H5N1 in vaccinated poultry"
Why I criticise the RSE Report so severely is
because their report gives no references whatsoever to justify the
statements made. The Report could be so easily quoted as an authoritative
statement concerning the real dangers of vaccination, but the scaremongering
is apparently based on little other than hypothetical modelling
based on what appears to be largely hypothetical data. The Report
made no mention of the field studies referred to above, that demonstrated
that such spread did not occur. Nor does the Report provide any
other evidence to support their potentially very misleading statements.
Although the RSE Report clearly referred to the
limitations of modelling based on insecure data, it would have done
well to have drawn attention to just how misleading modelling turned
out to be in relation to UK FMD 2001 as described by Kitching, Thrusfield
& Taylor (2006) (9).
A further flaw in the theoretical, but potentially
very damaging, conclusion drawn by the Woolhouse group, is that
no one, at least in a developed country, would consider using vaccination
as the only weapon to counter an outbreak of avian influenza. It
would be used along with other measures, such as localised culling
A young cockerel in a domestic garden
© Paul White/Alamy
The RSE Report makes no comment on the use of
avian influenza vaccination that was permitted, and used, in The
Netherlands in 2006 in relation to free-range laying hens and hobby
birds (10). Some account of their
experience would have been helpful for those of us in Scotland.
After all, the Netherlands is the biggest producer of poultry products
in Europe. The working Group made no reference to the extensive
use of vaccination against H5N1 in the Far East, and how effective
it was when used in conjunction with culling and biosecurity.
The RSE Report then goes on to say in para 7.6:
"Although stocks of H5N1 vaccines are held
by DEFRA for use in an emergency, our understanding is that current
contingency plans for the control of AI do not include vaccination
of domestic poultry in response to a substantial elevated risk
of infection. While vaccination of broiler birds is not an option
because of their short life-spans, vaccination of laying and breeding
flocks could be considered if virus prevalence were to become
so high in the wild bird population that repeated 'spillovers
' of infection to poultry were to occur."
What this demonstrates is a seriously passive
attitude, apparently just accepting what Defra says its policy is,
as opposed to giving some thought as to what Defra's thinking should
be. The European Commission largely leaves it up to the Member State
to come up with its own plan as to how it might wish to use vaccination
in any given circumstance. If the plan is reasonable, the Member
State has only got to ask for a licence to vaccinate, as did The
Netherlands and France. Better still, with the adoption of globally
available technology, but belatedly applied in the UK, the RSE Working
Group should have given some thought to how the European Commission
might radically change its thinking in terms of the use of vaccination
in the control of AI and other livestock viruses. This is particularly
so should localised preventative vaccination be used that may involve
an exit strategy on a regional basis.
Para 7.7 of the RSE Report reads:
"Vaccination of rare collections of birds
held privately or in zoos may be allowed if they are at high risk
of infection, but the efficacy of the vaccination in birds other
than domestic poultry is largely unknown"
We are repeatedly told that conservation and biodiversity
are of great importance. Perhaps the RSE Working Group could have
seen its way to supporting the recommendation of the combined report
of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences, that there
should be increased provision of high-biosecurty facilities to enable
research in this area.
As their final contribution to the matter of vaccination
for AI, the RSE Report says (para 7.8):
"Vaccination as a protective measure could
be attractive if more effective, cheap vaccines can be developed,
particularly if their method of delivery were to allow easy administration
to large flocks without the requirement to handle each individual
bird. We recommend that Government provide financial support for
research into, and development of, more effective and user-friendly
What the Report does not mention is that millions
of chickens were vaccinated in the Far East by intramuscular injection
in their successful drive to control the H5N1 epidemic. But labour
is cheap in China and other parts of the Far East, and we want cheap
food. The penny is slowly beginning to drop that if the British
public want home grown food, produced to a high standard of animal
welfare and health, it will be expensive. Otherwise there will not
be any significant home production. As an island we will be vulnerable,
as the world demand for food increases.
The RSE Report completely fails to come up with
any suggestions as to how free-range poultry are to be cared for
when an outbreak of AI is threatened. The Report simply says (para
"Clearly, there are limits to what can
be achieved by way of protection for free-range flocks"
In many instances it is simply not possible, and
for welfare reasons highly undesirable, to try and house free-range
birds for prolonged periods. The obvious thing to recommend is to
follow what the Dutch did: voluntary vaccination with appropriate
This brief contribution to forward thinking as
to how Scotland might fare in the future, makes no reference to
the urgent provision of rapid diagnostic testing that cannot only
detect viraemia, but whether a bird has been infected or vaccinated
according to the characteristics of the antibody response. Or indeed,
if a vaccinated bird is capable of shedding virus that can infect
other birds in a flock that has been vaccinated. At the very least
vaccination will lead to substantial reduction in the virus load.
One might have expected such a Report to have
at least a brief attempt at describing how new vaccines are being
developed, albeit largely outside the UK (see below). These new
techniques are aimed to speeding up vaccine production in the bulk
that is required. They are as relevant to Scotland as they are throughout
the rest of the world.
In para 7.2, the Report says:
"... the industry is unclear as to the
relative importance of the risks of disease, for example, from
wild birds or from farm visitors, and would welcome clearer guidance
to inform its biosecurity planning"
But in reality, surely the risk from wild birds
is related to the migratory patterns of these birds and where avian
influenza is currently active geographically. Surely also, poultry
units should have high biosecurity in terms of visitors as part
of good practice, to prevent the introduction of a whole range of
possible infections. Surely they should assume that gulls may pose
a particular risk, and ensure that no waste is lying around that
might attract them.
The Report made brief mention of the outbreak
of H5N1 on a poultry farm at Holton, Suffolk (para 4.4), but made
no reference to the deficiencies in biosecurity that led to poultry
products being imported to this massive Bernard Matthews turkey
farm from their related enterprise in Hungary, where H5N1 was recognised
to be active in geese close by, but outside the official control
zone. Was it common sense to take the risk of importing poultry
or poultry products from a site of such dubious biosecurity into
a massive poultry enterprise at Suffolk? And what about the Borders
checks by Customs (complete with new uniforms) when the lorry entered
the UK? It would have been informative to know whether modern technology
could provide a regional veterinary laboratory with the capability
of screening dead meat parts for dangerous viruses, although sampling
and sensitivity problems may make this impractical.
Why was biosecurity allegedly so lax that the
virus allegedly passed from a food processing plant to the live
poultry houses? What exactly do the poultry farmers need to be advised
about that they should not already know? Do they, along with certain
academics, want proof of the use of common sense?
Perhaps the RSE Report might have suggested that
the size of the Protected and Surveillance zones dictated by the
international authorities should be reviewed , rather than just
accepting them, as in para 7.4).
One of the major weaknesses in the management
of UK FMD 2001 was the over emphasis on what epidemiological modelling
can achieve. The RSE Report on Avian Influenza has a tendency to
continue that practice, but fortunately includes some important
The present article has already referred to the
potentially highly damaging brief communication by the Woolhouse
group, based on hypothetical modelling, whereby they warn about
the "Silent spread of H5N1 in vaccinated poultry", while
there is no evidence of such in the field, either in relation to
Avian Influenza or FMD when vaccination is combined with biosecurity
and localised culling.
Again, in evidence given to the RSE Working Group,
it would appear that the modellers were suggesting that the manner
in which the Suffolk outbreak was handled (essentially by extensive
culling) would be typical of most outbreaks, with the disease not
spreading beyond the index case. Fortunately, the RSE Report clearly
points to the severe limitations of such a claim, based on the limited
validity of the data used by the modellers.
Indeed, so poor have been the preparations over
the years by Defra to manage a potential outbreak of AI that it
is only very recently that it has established a poultry register
for flocks of over 50 birds. Where smaller flocks are is quite unknown.
Even the register of larger flocks is thought to be incomplete.
As pointed out in the RSE Report, Scotland's poultry
is certainly at risk of introduction of H5N1 virus. Scotland has
a concentration of bird sanctuaries to protect migrating birds,
especially water birds including waders. Gulls are rightly referred
to as being possible carriers of the virus, as they frequent farms.
The risk to free-range poultry from wild birds is referred to, but
nothing is recommended as to how this risk could be countered. As
already mentioned above, the RSE Report chose to totally ignore
the Dutch experience of this very problem.
The Report highlights its concerns about the wild
bird surveillance programme, including who should conduct it and
who should pay for it.
Scotland is also at risk because, in the case
of commercial laying flocks, no birds are hatched in Scotland and
most are brought in from English hatcheries.
Para 4.2 states:
"Poultry chicks , gamebird chicks (especially
pheasants) and mallard ducklings are imported into Scotland, but
mainly from elsewhere in the EU where the incidence of the disease
is low. and the level of monitoring for the disease is high. Moreover,
all imported birds are subject to veterinary inspection and monitoring
at an early stage following their arrival in the country"
But the EU now consists of 27 member states. Its
borders now extend into geographical areas where diseases of livestock
are not well monitored and are commonplace. There is also no mention
of the trade of importing birds illegally, or of the biosecurity
fiascos of Customs and Excise even when birds are imported legally.
Would it not be useful for the regional veterinary
laboratory to have a mobile machine that could detect virus, even
before the clinical signs of the disease become obvious?
Risks to human health
The RSE Report rightly points out that in the
view of the World Health Organisation we are closer to another human
pandemic than at any time since 1968. The RSE Report also rightly
draws attention to the thoroughly competent report, "Pandemic
influenza: science to policy", produced jointly by the Royal
Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences (2).
While the risk of a new human pandemic evolving
in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK may well be small, should there
be a mutation of H5N1 any where else in the world that enabled the
virus to cross the species barrier so as to infect man, world travel
is such that that it could arrive in Scotland or elsewhere in the
UK very easily.
The RSE Report makes no mention of the possibility
that H5N1 virus may act in conjunction with common influenza viruses
that attack humans in a seasonal manner every year. In so doing,
it is conceivable that they can cross the species barrier from bird
to man, enabling the H5N1 virus to infect not just the upper respiratory
tract but the whole body. Should that happen, there would be a massive
inflammatory response which would overwhelm the body's defences
with rapid death following. It is for this reason that groups such
as poultry cullers are offered seasonal vaccination against the
predicted human influenza strains each year. The aim is reduce the
chances of such a worker being exposed to H5N1 and seasonal viruses
at the same time. Such dual infections might give the avian and
human viruses an opportunity to exchange genes, possibly resulting
in a new influenza virus subtype with pandemic potential.
Para 8.5 of the RSE Report states:
"... the risk of a new human pandemic strain
of virus evolving in Scotland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom
is very small. However, it will be important to detect an incipient
pandemic originating elsewhere if we are to be prepared for it
striking the UK. It will only be feasible to produce a meaningful
projection of a pandemic if good data are available at an early
stage, and this means identification of changes in the virus in
the first 100 cases. This is unlikely in some of those parts of
the world considered most likely to be the source of any pandemic,
but this emphasises the importance of surveillance."
But surveillance means quick and accurate detection
of the virus and its subsequent spread. The present outbreak of
FMD in Surrey, following a leak from the Pirbright complex just
a few miles away, should have been an opportunity to demonstrate
how viruses in the environment can be effectively monitored using
modern technology to the full. Currently, that apparently cannot
be effectively achieved,: even when the source of the infection
is pinpointed so precisely as a leak from the World Reference Centre
There is no mention in the RSE Report of on-site
testing for virus, using pooled samples and transportable RT-PCR
machines. Hopefully, the clinical laboratories will be able to respond
much more promptly than the veterinary laboratories appear to be
able to do with H5N1 or with FMD to date.
According to the RSE Report,
"The evidence from the modelling studies
suggests that movement restrictions would have little impact on
the spread of disease and that there is no intention to introduce
restrictions on travel here in the case of a pandemic. It is difficult
to predict how people will react to a pandemic, for example by
staying at home"
There seems to be no end to the arrogance of the
modellers. How can they suggest anything of the kind when, as in
so many other instances, they have no good data with which to feed
their models. There also seems, as often the case with academics,
that common sense is ignored while everybody waits for a research
paper to emerge confirming what was common sense in the first place.
Or finding that common sense can be difficult to prove in strict
scientific terms, but is nonetheless highly valid. You bet people
will stay at home if they possibly can. Or may try to get as far
away from other people as possible, but somehow keep in contact
with the emergency medical services, which are of course concentrated
in the cities.
If a pandemic is caused by a mutation or a variant
of Avian Influenza, then the characterisation of the virus would
be imperative. The RSE Report makes no mention of the impressive
international cooperation in the field of science in identifying
the SARS virus, nor of the equally impressive speed at which it
was achieved (11, 12).
It was notable that there was no UK contribution to that excellent
example of international cooperation.
The RSE Report makes depressing reading regarding
the possible use of vaccination against a new strain of H5N1, or
even against the present strain. It states (para 8.9):
"We recognise that it is unlikely that
a vaccine effective against a new strain of pandemic influenza
virus could be produced before the disease affects the UK. Even
if a vaccine were to be available, there would be significant
costs in making this available to the whole population. In addition,
consideration would have to be given to the possible risks of
neurological complications associated with the widespread use
of a new vaccine. Small stocks of an H5N1 vaccine are available
and could be used, if appropriate, to protect key health workers.
The hope is that, should there be a pandemic, a vaccine might
be developed to protect certain priority groups from the second
wave of infection"
Perhaps the RSE academics could have offered just
a little hope. There have been exciting new developments that have
the potential to shorten the time taken to produce new vaccines
To quote the NIH News article written in 2004
'In the case of SARS, we have dramatically cut
vaccine development time with powerful new tools from two different
fields, molecular biology and information technology," says
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of NIAID.
Instead of using weakened or inactivated virus,
which is typical for vaccine development, the new vaccine is composed
of a small circular piece of DNA that encodes the viral spike
protein. Scientists modified the DNA to minimize the risk of it
combining with the SARS virus or other viruses of the SARS type,
Scientists expect that the DNA will direct human
cells to produce proteins very similar to the SARS spike protein.
The immune system should recognize these proteins as foreign and
then mount a defense against them. If the vaccinated person ever
encounters the actual SARS virus, his or her immune system will
be primed to neutralize it.
"It is truly remarkable that less than
two years ago we were facing an unknown global health threat,
and now we are testing a promising vaccine that may help us to
counter that threat should it re-emerge," Dr. Fauci said'
Alright, it will still take time, and there could
be problems with the new type vaccines that are not yet resolved.
These relate to what might happen when the vaccinated subject is
re-challenged with the virus. Might the body over react, making
matters worse, or would there be a booster effect? Proper trials
are essential, but let us have a flicker of hope as to what science
can do when it applies itself urgently to a problem on an international
But it is not just the science that is the problem.
There is the problem of the state in which commercial vaccination
production is in, globally. It is allegedly poorly coordinated with
each country doing its individual ordering, as it thinks fit, and
joining the queue, which can be a long one when an epidemic or worse,
a pandemic, strikes.
But did you like the bit that said
"there would be significant costs in making
this (vaccine) available to the whole population?"
The inference is that most of us would not be
The statement made in the RSE Report that "Small
stocks of an H5N1 vaccines are available " for humans may be
The stocks available are small allegedly because
that is all the UK Government has ordered from the vaccine manufacturers.
Other countries may well have ordered much more at an earlier date.
The RSE Report makes no recommendation as to whether or not the
people of Scotland should have access to such a vaccine: that is,
whether the Government should order more now in preparation, knowing
that it may not be used or that a different virus may be involved
in a future pandemic. We are not told in the Report whether the
members of the Working Party thought it wise just to have small
stocks against the most likely virus, and take the dire consequences
when a pandemic starts. Instead the Report simply reiterates what
Government has done. That is not the purpose of an "independent"
report. If the members of the Working Party agree with what the
government has allegedly planned for us, then they should say so.
One wonders if the UK is in a position any more
to fund research leading to the commercial development of new vaccines.
May be under funded Pirbright is no longer the leader it used to
be. May be other countries, such as the USA with its massive agricultural
interests, and large biological/chemical commercial enterprises,
are unmatchable, while we are just left scraping at the surface.
But if that is the case, then we should not hesitate to buy in the
results of their efforts.
In contrast to the RSE Report, i would suggest that the recommendations
should have been the following.
1. The provision for rapid diagnostic
facilities within Scotland. Technology that enables rapid, accurate
and highly sensitive on-site diagnosis must be used to the full.
Perhaps the sensible approach to "Avian Influenza:
an assessment of the threat to Scotland" would be to ask in
what way does the situation in Scotland differ from that elsewhere
in the UK, in the EU and in the world. And in what way is the situation
in Scotland the same as elsewhere.
Great Britain is an island, and Scotland is part
of that island. This has great potential advantage provided the
borders of that island are carefully monitored to prevent the importation
of diseases, such as AI. It was the movements of poultry products
that caused the outbreak at Suffolk earlier this year. As it is
recognised the world over, that it is the movement of poultry products
that forms the main risk to the spread of AI, a top priority for
Scotland would be to ensure our guard against this is optimal. To
do this effectively comes down to the provision of regional veterinary
laboratories equipped with the means of rapidly and accurately detecting
AI and other such viruses on site when suspicion is aroused. It
should be emphasises that available technology can detect virus
in the preclinical stage of disease, and is much more sensitive
and accurate than visual inspection, no matter how experience the
vet may be.
Geographically, much of Scotland is rough and
rugged terrain with relatively poor communications to the main centres
within the UK. This is another reason why it is important for Scotland
to have its 8 regional veterinary laboratories equipped with the
ability to carry out rapid and accurate diagnostic tests. More than
that, Scotland should have its own high-containment biosecurity
facility, rather than depend entirely on remote Pirbright in Surrey.
2. The importance of taking part, along
with the rest of the UK, in persuading Brussels to adapt its Directives
to keep pace with the application of modern technology, and to do
so promptly according to the regional requirements of Member States.
This is of particular importance if the most effective weapon against
viral infections, vaccination, is to be used. The main obstacle
to its use at the present time are the EC rules regarding the exit
3. Scotland, along with the rest of the
UK, should adopt the Dutch policy whereby, under veterinary supervision,
free-range poultry enterprises and hobby poultry keepers can vaccinate
their flocks on a voluntary basis. under appropriate supervision
by their vets. The fact that the RSE Report essentially
ignores the immense welfare problems of housing free-range poultry
for long periods is not acceptable.
4. Scotland should join the rest of the
UK, and the EU, in emphasising the importance of an integrated international
policy with regard to the development of appropriate vaccines.
No single country within the EU can achieve this on its own. Substantial
government funding for collaboration between vaccine manufacturers
and research laboratories is required, rather than the present system
of each Member State ordering vaccines that it thinks it may require,
but which may not be available in time for commercial reasons.
5. Once the above has been achieved, it is then
sensible to address what the RSE Report puts as its top recommendation:
the monitoring of Scotland's wildbird population for A|.
The Report states that Scotland's wildlife is not threatened by
AI. We know that migrating birds can carry the virus to our shores
from lands where AI exists. We know that that situation will change
with the seasons and with the geographical location of the different
AI subtypes at any particular time throughout the world. Suspected
deaths of wild birds from A| should be rapidly checked in regional
veterinary laboratories that are properly equipped to do the job.
The provision of these facilities would enable the RSPB to liaise
locally with the regional veterinary laboratories. RSPB is one of
the best funded charities. Pleas for them to be additional funded,
provided well equipped regional laboratories are available, should
not be regarded as a main recommendation.
5. The recommendation within the RSE Report for
more funding for modelling, second in their view to monitoring
wild birds, should only come after the above recommendations
have been met.
6. The RSE Report should be much more careful
in making unsubstantiated statements. For example, that in the face
of an AI pandemic affecting the human population, travel restrictions
would not be effective.
For the reasons given in this article, it is considered
the Report by the Working Party of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,
"Avian Influenza: an assessment of the threat to Scotland"
is seriously flawed. The Report should be either radically revised
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