Early vaccination will play an important role in a new national Foot and Mouth Disease policy developed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
The new policy is designed to improve Australia’s preparedness against the disease.
DAFF Deputy Secretary, Rona Mellor, said while Australia has been free of foot-and-mouth disease for more than 100 years, it is still by far the most significant biosecurity threat to Australia’s livestock industries.
“Rather than considering vaccination a ‘measure of last resort’, Australia will now consider the potential role of vaccination as part of the response strategy as soon as an incursion of FMD is detected,” Ms Mellor said.
Both experience overseas and disease modelling studies carried out in Australia show that, in some circumstances, early vaccination was essential to effective disease control.
The potential value of vaccination as a tool to assist in stamping out FMD is underlined in a comparison on the Animal Health Australia website which parallels the management of FMD outbreaks in the UK and Uruguay in 2001.
The UK eradicated FMD by slaughtering animals to stamp out the disease, and killed a total of 5,730,000 cattle, of which 3,910,000 tested positive to FMD.
Uruguay used vaccination to assist its eradication campaign and needed to kill 6937 cattle, which were all FMD positive.
“The direct cost of the FMD outbreak in the UK was US$4.6 billion, that of Uruguay US$13 million,” the AHA website reads. “The total economic impact of the FMD outbreak in the UK was over US$10 billion, that of Uruguay less than US$400 million.”
An FMD Vaccination Expert Advisory Group is now developing detailed guidelines identifying the circumstances under which vaccination will be a useful strategy, and the best strategy for different outbreak scenarios.
“The new policy acknowledges the need to maintain flexibility so that decision–makers can consider the potential role of vaccination appropriate for each specific outbreak scenario,” Ms Mellor said.
During a recent meeting of the Standing Council on Primary Industries (SCoPI ) the Australian Government and all states and territories endorsed the national policy on the use of vaccination during a foot–and–mouth disease outbreak.
Ms Mellor said the update better aligns Australia’s FMD vaccination policy with advancing vaccine technologies, community perspectives and international standards and practices.
Following the 2011 Matthews report, which highlighted vaccination policy as an area where Australia’s preparedness for FMD could be improved, consultations were held with key livestock industry bodies, states and territories, the Animal Health Committee and the Primary Industries Standing Council.
The Foot–and–mouth Disease Vaccine Experts Advisory Group will hold meetings with industry in 2012 to ensure continued input.
It is estimated that in the unlikely event of a FMD outbreak, the disease could cost Australia as much as $16 billion. This is based on a worst case scenario of a 12–month outbreak spread across a large area.
FMD vaccination processes are based on two primary strategies – protective vaccination and suppressive vaccination.
In the event of an FMD outbreak, protective vaccination can be applied as a “ring vaccination”. This practice involves vaccinating healthy animals in a certain radius around an infected premises to provide a buffer population of immune animals to reduce the size of the outbreak.
Protective vaccination is most effective when used early in the outbreak and when the disease is spreading rapidly.
Suppressive vaccination is used to suppress a virus shedding from already infected animals.
The AHA says suppressive vaccination would involve a selected group of animals within an area already infected.
“It is literally the animals in the middle of the outbreak that are vaccinated to reduce the amount of virus that these animals are shedding; this reduces the risk of spread beyond the already infected area.”
Australia’s federal, state and territory governments and livestock industries currently have a five-year supply contract in place with a commercial manufacturer to 2014 to provide 500 000 cattle-equivalent doses of any of nine FMD strains within seven business days of notification.
The AHA says this number of doses has been calculated to be sufficient in the early stages of a response but will be supplemented by further purchases if needed.
The Australian Government estimates that were FMD to strike Australia, it would take at least 18 months after the event to re-open vital US and Asian markets.