2017Search | Site Info | Site Map



Animal Health/


Land Reform









Book Reviews

Light Relief





Contact Us

Get Acrobat Reader



Back to SCIENCE Homepage

DEFRA statements on the role of vaccination in the control of virulent livestock viruses could make better informed people weep

James Irvine

Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire

Filed 12 Feb 07

Following the recent outbreak of Avian Influenza H5N1 in the huge Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Suffolk, which resulted in the slaughter of some 160,000 birds, Ben Bradshaw, Westminster Minister of State for Animal Welfare, said on national TV:

"Vaccination can mask disease and therefore could spread the disease further"

On February 1st 2007.labour peer, Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton, said the same in reply to a question in the House of Lords from the Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Hansard 1st February 2007, Column 334):

"My Lords, the vaccination programme is obviously kept under under review, but as I know the noble Baroness is aware from earlier discussions, if we take as an example avian flu, there is a danger that that reliance on avian flu vaccination for birds could spread the disease further and thus be dangerous. Birds could still catch avian flu but the symptoms would be masked."

Oh dear, here we go yet again!

One really has to wonder who is giving the politicians so-called "excellent scientific advice". We were assured yet again by David Miliband, Westminster Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), in an interview with Andrew Marr on TV BBC1 Sunday AM 12th February, that he had followed scientific advice from DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and that "he had every confidence in the high standard of that advice, and that this was also the opinion of the Chief Scientist, Professor Sir David King", who had vouched for the high standards of the scientists involved.

There is abundant collateral evidence that DEFRA, as well as the Home Office, is another government department that is "not fit for purpose." That apparently includes its advisers on the immunology of vaccination. Who is it who selects the so-called independent scientist/s who allegedly advise the FSA?

As discussed extensively at the time of the debacle of the UK 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic (FMD UK2001) when some 10 million animals were slaughtered, international scorn was poured on the same utterances that were made by the same David King, from DEFRA and from the politicians. Apparently they have learned not a thing.

What should have been learned is some basic immunology regarding vaccination as a front line of defence against the spread of viral diseases in livestock - or indeed in humans.

Vaccination against viral diseases in man and animals has been extensively used throughout the world with outstanding success. There is no significant evidence that, in the field, vaccination can "facilitate the spread of disease" on account of immunised persons or animals acting as symptomless carriers.

A fundamental principle of vaccination - why it works so successfully - is as follows. Such advice has been available in basic standard textbooks for many years: at least those relevant to the control of disease in the field rather than in the artificial confines of a laboratory.

When some 85% of a population are vaccinated against a virus, the viral load is greatly reduced. Not only that, but the opportunities for the virus to spread is interrupted because of the effectiveness of the vaccination in the majority of that population. The virus finds that it has nowhere to go. With no where to go, it dies out.

Furthermore, even if a person or an animal takes the virus on board before the vaccination has had time to be fully effective, the damage the virus can do is reduced: including its ability to spread to other susceptible persons or animals.

The success of vaccination depends on a high percentage take: not on a100% take.

That has been the basis for the huge success of vaccination throughout the world in relation to many lethal viral diseases that previously devastated large populations.

Frankly, it must be time for the manner in which scientific advice is given to Government to be reviewed: and, in particular, who is giving it.