Activists jeopardize livestock vaccine use

A Canadian-financed project to develop vaccines to inoculate livestock in sub-Saharan Africa against infectious diseases could produce results within three years, says the project leader.

However, anti-vaccination politics could delay or stymie their introduction.

Celebrated Canadian researcher Lorne Babiuk leads a project that uses advanced DNA technology to develop vaccine antidotes to deadly and destructive African animal diseases such as Rift Valley Fever, West Nile Virus and lumpy skin disease.

Babiuk, the former head of the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization (now the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization) in Saskatoon, is now vice-president of research at the University of Alberta and part of the agriculture, life and environment faculty.

He said during a lecture in Ottawa Oct. 8 that success would save the economy of southern African billions of dollars, reduce human illness and economic side-effects and protect European and North Americans from spread of the diseases.

“Depending on the funding, we’ll hopefully have the vaccines developed in another three years, but then it depends on how long the regulatory and other aspects lasts,” he said in an interview following his speech to the International Development Research Centre, which funds the work.

“That’s out of our hands.”

However, the “regulatory and other aspects” part of the project is the greatest problem.

Babiuk complained that anti-vaccination activists in North America, Western Europe and Africa are the greatest threat to seeing the results of the work save lives.

“The science is the easy part,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve lost the battle. It’s a battle we have to continue to fight, but the anti-vaccine lobby group is really quite strong and they have all kinds of reasons why vaccines won’t work or are bad. That’s the challenge we have: how do we contain that very small but vocal group who then convince the less informed to start questioning.”

Babiuk leads a group of scientists that stretches from the U of A and VIDO to the University of Manitoba and scientists in the South African capital of Pretoria.

The project, which creates vaccines built from the DNA profile of diseases, began two years ago when IDRC agreed to invest $2 million.

“Without IDRC, this wouldn’t be happening,” he said.

He hopes the private sector begins to invest once the commercialization potential is in sight.

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