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Bluetongue vaccination in Scotland:
open letter to
Scotland's Chief Veterinary Officer

James Irvine

Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire

Filed 22 June 08

To: Professor Charles Milne, Scotland's Chief Veterinary Officer

Dear Professor Milne

Thank you for your invitation for me, when we met at the Royal Highland Show on Friday 20th, to come along to the Stakeholders meeting on Monday 23rd June. The subject to be discussed is bluetongue vaccination in Scotland and how is it to be effected.

I would have liked to have attended but unfortunately I have not received a prior invitation. I have major commitments on Monday 23rd (ironically involved with my decision to substantially reduce the size of my suckler cow herd) which I cannot change at such short notice.

However, you may be interested in my thoughts on the subject, based on the limited information that is currently available to me, or indeed to others.

In particular, I have given some thought to the question as to whether Scotland should vaccinate at the earliest possible date, or wait until the Vector Free Period (VFP) (which as you know started last year on 20th December).

My opinion is:

Vaccinate at the earliest possible date

My reasons are as follows.

We are assured - I trust officially - that the uptake of vaccination has been good in the Protection Zone in England, but no official figures have been published as far as I am aware. Even if they have been, there appears to be no clear objective statement that the vaccination has been uniform throughout all areas (not just counties). If channels of poor vaccination have been left open the disease can readily spread via midges and cattle movements.

I understand that 3 cases of Bluetongue (one in south Scotland) have been identified recently outwith Protection Zone (PZ) areas that have got through the pre-movement testing net. I understand the reasons for the Scottish case was that the beast got infected between premovement testing and the movement from Germany. I am given to understand that the permitted interval between testing and movement is some 40 days - plenty of time for a beast to pick up an infection.

Why on earth are Scottish farmers importing beasts from countries with high disease is beyond me, when the limitations of premovement testing are obvious. But the illogical EC rules allow this to happen.

We will not know the true situation regarding the resurgence of bluetongue disease in England until the end of August or even September, by which time the midges there may have had time to do there act with new cases of bluetongue possibly appearing both in the Protection and in the Surveillance zones.

England will be looking to extend vaccination, declaring PZ right up to the border - if they don't, then they should be. it will only be the shortage of vaccine that will prevent them. That would be a very unfortunate situation for those farmers in the Scottish Borders. They would have to suffer the risk of having free movement of diseased animals right up to the Border. while having no protection.

Many hill farmers in the Borders and elsewhere have emphasised to me that it is impractical to vaccinate over the VFP, especially now that it has been revealed that vaccination must not happen alongside any other treatment such as worming or fluke prevention. The weather conditions may also make things very difficult to ensure that effective vaccination actually occurs. Taking sheep and cattle off the hill in winter twice or thrice is likely to cause serious logistic problems in extensive hill areas.

There must be worries that the uptake of vaccine in England is reputed to exceed 100%. There may be good reasons for this (like having spare vaccine in case of accidents) but there is also the worry of black market trade in the vaccine: which could be very lucrative and there is certainly a demand for it.

I believe it may be argued by some that there is no point in vaccinating in late August or September (should the vaccine for Scotland be available by then) since by the time vaccination could be fully effective the disease risk would have been largely gone. I believe this to be quite fallacious. Effective vaccination gives protection for 12 months. There is considerable latitude on either side of the 12 months when it is acceptable to give the booster dose to get effective protection for another year. That is the case for most vaccines and I would doubt if vaccine to BT8 is any different.

Therefore it would be far better to vaccinate early and achieve effective vaccination for 12 - 15 months, giving latitude of some 9 - 15 months as to when the booster dose can be given next year.

Early vaccination in Scotland should be accompanied by the Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland asking for a Voluntary Ban on the importation of any ruminant during the period it takes for vaccination to be completed and to be fully effective in a defined region, unless the beast has been fully vaccinated and thereby protected. While there is no EC law to prevent such movements, the names of those farmers that do import beasts during this period should be widely publicised - not for breaking any EC law but for breaking a voluntary code recommended by the Scottish CVO and supported by the industry. The other alternative, of course, is to do what the irish did when they found themselves at risk: they made their own law and got the EC to amend their directives retrospectively. Unfortunately, it is generally thought that you, as Scotland's CVO, are too keen to apply every EC Directive to the letter (and possibly a bit extra for good measure).

When Scotland does start vaccination - and the sooner the better - it surely must start at the Borders and work north. Waiting until the whole of Scotland has vaccine would be distinctly unwise

GET VACCINATING ASAP, starting at the Borders.
GET A VOLUNTARY CODE (with the teeth of naming and shaming) in place to stop movements into Scotland of beasts that have not been fully vaccinated from the start of vaccination in Scotland until it is fully effective.

I am dismayed that information about the tendering for Scotland's Bluetongue vaccine supplies has been so sadly lacking to date. Whilst Government talks about sharing costs and responsibilities, it would appear to conduct itself in unnecessary secrecy over essential information which should be openly available to farmers and others (as it was in England and Wales). At present livestock farmers do not know whether vaccine has even yet been ordered for Scotland and when it might be delivered, and in how many stages.

I hope you find these comments helpful. I regret that - on account of the short notice - I am unable to take up your kind invitation to come along to the Stakeholders meeting on Monday 23rd June at which the matter is to be discussed. But even if I was able to come, I would find it less than satisfactory to be given an update on the availability or otherwise of vaccine for Scotland and then be asked to immediately respond to the information without an opportunity for proper consideration. Such has been the apparent lack of openness with information on this very important subject.

Best regards


Dr James Irvine

Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire