In August 2023 Farmers Weekly reported on discussions to develop a pathway for approval of the export of cattle vaccinated with the “much-anticipated” bovine TB vaccine. The discussions are taking place two years before the vaccine is schedule to be deployed. The vaccine and accompanying Diva test are currently in the second phase of a trial regime, but Defra told Farmers Weekly that the government is “already engaging” with the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the EU Commission, and international trading partners. The hope is that these discussions can “mitigate the likelihood of any trade impacts” of the vaccine and skin test.  

More work ahead 

Current standards relating to exports of live vaccinated animals and their subsequent genetic material will be reviewed, but no further controls for fresh meat or meat products are expected. Defra explained to Farmers Weekly that, when field trials have been successfully completed, a “formal application” will be submitted to WOAH to validate the Diva skin test and update the WOAH Codes and Manuals.  

The deadline of 2025 can be met through the achievement of the following factors: 

  • Successful trials conducted by Eville and Jones 
  • Transfer of the Diva test technology to a suitable manufacturer 
  • Establishment of robust systems for official identification and traceability of vaccinated cattle 
  • Necessary UK marketing authorisations from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate 

Defra assured Farmers Weekly that progress is being made “at pace” but the vaccine will only be deployed “when we have all the right steps in place to enable the programme to be a success”. Dr Lindsay Heasman, project manager at Eville and Jones, understands how “crucial the project is for the future control of TB”, and how it may become “part of a suite of measures to help eradicate” the disease.  

A tool not a silver bullet 

In July a Defra-commissioned study emphasised that “no single control measure” will be a “silver bullet” for eradication. However, vaccination will be an essential tool. Defra reiterated to Farmers Weekly that vaccination will help “drive down the disease burden”. This will “significantly” contribute to the goal of achieving TB-free status in England by 2038.  

Vet and technical director for the TB Advisory Service, Sarah Tomlinson, commented that “England has come a long way” over 10 years. Although June saw a drop in cattle slaughter by “24%” since last year and the South-West is at the “lowest level of TB for 20 years”, we “still have a long way to go”. She emphasised that a strong grasp of local epidemiology will be critical.  

“Different tactics may be needed in different parts of England: enhanced cattle testing, badger control, engagement in TB biosecurity… Cattle vaccination needs to fit into policy alongside these ‘tools in the box’.” 

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