In a Defra-commissioned study published in VetRecord researchers investigated the attitudes of farmers to different vaccination approaches to tackling bovine Tuberculosis (bTB). The disease is one of the “most challenging animal diseases in the UK”, with an annual taxpayer cost of over £150 million. Efforts have been directed towards badger culling to reduce incidence, but sights are set on a possible cattle vaccine as well. In 2021 investigations began to examine the safety and efficacy of the bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine in cattle. However, once a successful vaccine has been achieved, the effectiveness of deployment relies on several factors such as willingness to pay and trust in vaccines.  

Behavioural insights 

A recent policy from the British Veterinary Association emphasised the need to understand farmers’ behaviour and attitudes to help eradicate bTB.  Thus, the study in VetRecord aims to examine farmer and agricultural stakeholder attitudes towards vaccinating cattle with CattleBCG. To identify the likely behavioural factors behind uptake and acceptance of a vaccine, the researchers use the behavioural insights framework EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely).  

“Behavioural insights reflect a form of psychological governance that seeks to alter human behaviour without direct regulation.” 

The authors suggest that, although public health campaigns “traditionally” rely on educating people through information campaigns, a behavioural insight approach can help inform campaigns based on behavioural cues and biases.  

As the CattleBCG vaccine is currently in UK field trials, any understanding of farmers’ motivations to use unapproved technology is hypothetical. However, scenario methodologies serve as a helpful method for understanding attitudes and beliefs about “complex and potentially sensitive situations”. 

3 scenarios 

Three scenarios were presented: 

  1. A voluntary approach in which farmers decided whether to vaccinate. 
  2. A government-led, mandatory approach, with vaccination organised by the government. 
  3. Required vaccination to be delivered through farmer-run vaccination companies. 

The three scenarios reflected either farmers’ existing use of vaccines or elements of the existing bTB control programme. EAST-oriented behavioural cues were examined across all three scenarios. Key positive cues, likely to encourage vaccine uptake, include free deployment of the vaccine, clear messaging around vaccine efficacy, reduced testing requirements, compensation, and minimal trade implications. Although these factors would be important in a voluntary vaccination programme, a national mandatory scheme was also considered helpful to maximise the number of participating farmers.  

Not a silver bullet 

The study reveals a collective view that “no single control measure will act as a ‘silver bullet’ for eradicating the disease”. Therefore, other control measures will be necessary. However, it does show that there is a “general acceptance” of cattle vaccination as a control mechanism. This is likely influenced by existing routine livestock vaccination programmes.  

The authors also comment on a “key implication” of their research; the presence of “differing levels of understanding among participants surrounding how vaccines work and their realistic efficacy” highlights a need for “transparent communication”. Furthermore, although farmers and stakeholders were “receptive” to the idea of vaccinating cattle against bTB, there was a clear need for “clarity”. 

“Any trade implications must be addressed and communicated with farmers.” 

For example, current guidance supports a 90-day meat withdrawal, which is “highly unattractive” to many participants. If this withdrawal is unavoidable, information should be “shared widely” and farmers should be consulted on how they can make this practical.  

Farmers Weekly quoted researcher Sarah Tomlinson, who is a member of Defra’s bovine TB partnership board. She commented that the research presented an “opportunity” to understand views on cattle vaccination so that Defra can “work out what the barriers are and how to overcome them”.  

“Most importantly, farmers have got to trust the policy and ensure the science and evidence they have to deliver it is thoroughly tested.”  

Have you been affected by bovine TB, and if so, would you be receptive to cattle vaccination? What would influence your decision? 

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