NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The United States would consider vaccination if foot-and-mouth disease should ever appear.
The current government policy states infected and exposed livestock would be killed and then buried or burned but with more than 175 million cattle, sheep and hogs under threat, the task would be impossible and unaffordable, said officials with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“We cannot afford to have massive depopulation of herds, especially if that livestock still has value. Often times in a number of these diseases, it does,” said John Clifford, head of APHIS, at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this month.
“We can recover from an FMD outbreak. It is going to hurt but I believe this new approach that we are looking at is far more beneficial than to have a policy where we go in and do massive depopulation,” he said.
During an outbreak, state and federal officials would work to stamp out the infection by killing the infected and suffering animals, then vaccinating those that could be exposed. The vaccinated animals would be allowed to live and the meat could be sold.
“Foot-and-mouth is not a public health threat and animals recover from FMD,” he said.
When a country or zone without FMD vaccination discovers animals with the disease, those animals must be eradicated and others tested. Exports can resume if no positive tests are found for three consecutive months following the last discovered case.
That policy must be re-examined, said Clifford.
“It doesn’t matter what disease it is, whether it is hog cholera or foot-and-mouth disease, we need new approaches and new ways of doing things. At the international level, we can start changing the influence of the world organization for animal health … to accept what we are talking about for a strategy for vaccination,” he said.
APHIS is seeking public input to a policy change, said Darrell Styles, a veterinarian with APHIS.
Change is needed because the U.S. government does not have the money to pay large amounts of compensation for catastrophic losses and cannot afford the loss of meat to feed its own people.
“We can’t slow the speed of commerce. Otherwise the food supply would falter,” he said.
Current regulations state animals must be killed and disposed of within 24 hours.
“We cannot meet these schedules today,” he said.
The infected country is also required to stop movement but for a large area country like the U.S., traffic could not be stopped.
Vaccination can affect trade status but it may be the best solution in a widespread emergency.
Vaccination creates sero-positive animals and new tests are needed to differentiate vaccinated from infected livestock, said Clifford.
At this time, there is not enough vaccine available, said Styles.
For the most common strain of FMD, about seven million doses are available and some private companies may have some in storage. For the second most common strain, there are 2.5 million doses.
Vaccine is stored as a concentrated antigen and goes to a manufacturer to produce usable vaccine when needed.
“There is no vaccine surplus capacity. They are not going to make it if there is no need for it,” he said.
There are seven different strains of the virus and many combinations. The vaccines may not provide cross-protection.
In addition, Styles said the beef industry needs a biosecurity plan that includes farms and public gathering places like auctions to prevent the spread of FMD and other diseases.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency FMD fact sheets report the current strategy is to identify all exposed premises, cull exposed and potentially exposed high-risk animals and decontaminate the environment to avoid further spread.
Affected animals would be disposed of by incineration or burial in agreement with provincial or municipal authorities.
Canada does not rely on routine vaccination because there are several disease types, and vaccines must be targeted to the specific type of FMD.
There is also concern an animal could become a carrier without showing signs of the disease.
Canada would lose its status as FMD-free if vaccinating against the disease.