The introduction of a new vaccine to help protect sheep and cattle against birth defects caused by the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) has been welcomed by the livestock industry.
Available this summer, UK farmers will be the first in the EU with access to the vaccine after a licence was issued to veterinary pharmaceutical company MSD Animal Health to make its ‘Bovilis SBV’ vaccine available in the UK for the first time.
The decision was announced this week by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Pete Borriello, the agency’s chief executive officer, said: “This is the culmination of intensive activity on the part of MSD Animal Health and the VMD to make a safe and effective vaccine available to tackle Schmallenberg.
“Without in any way compromising the scientific rigour of our assessment process, we accelerated our assessment so that a vaccine will be available this summer.
“This means it will be possible to vaccinate sheep and cattle before most of them become pregnant. This is important as it is during pregnancy when exposure to the virus can cause damage to the foetus.”
Voluntary reports from farmers show that 1,753 farms throughout Britain have tested positive for the virus.
Defra’s deputy chief veterinary officer Alick Simmons said: “The vaccine will give extra assurance against this disease on top of the natural immunity we expect sheep and cattle to develop after initial exposure.”
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said he was delighted having called for a vaccine for some time.
He said: “We are particularly pleased the vaccine licence indicates sheep need just one jab, as this avoids the expense, stress and inconvenience of having to gather and inject sheep twice.
“The work done by both parties to provide and corroborate evidence for this is hugely appreciated by the sheep sector, along with the commitment to move rapidly in getting this product to market.
“The decision about whether to vaccinate or not will be down to each individual farmer, their business model, infection history, lambing pattern and location. NSA urges farmers to talk to their vet in advance of tupping, so that if vaccination is seen as the best route, there is enough time to implement a programme and fully protect stock.”
Peter Jones, president of the British Veterinary Association, said farmers would be wise to take veterinary advice to help determine how, where and when to use the vaccine.
He added: “Given the serious worry this new disease has caused and the significant losses that individual farmers have faced, the news that a vaccine is now available should be warmly welcom-ed.”