Badger vaccination - a no-brainer
Room O at Portcullis House, part of the House of Commons buildings, was packed today. We thought that arriving just a couple of minutes late due to a hold-up in security would not make much of a difference, but it did. For a while we had to observe the whole event from just outside the door, since the room was completely packed with journalists, MPs, Team Badger representatives and speakers.
This was a much-anticipated event, part of the work that many members of Team Badger have been undertaking for several years now to stop the infamous badger cull. The event was staged to launch BACVI (Badger and Cattle Vaccination Initiative), a nationwide appeal to promote and support vaccination of badgers and cattle as a tool in the fight against bovine TB.
BACVI was announced as “a new, humane and credible project that will protect badgers from bovine TB, and take them out of the equation as regards bTB in cattle”. The event started with Dr. Rosie Woodroffe, from the Zoological Society of London, giving a detailed presentation about badger vaccination, as well as producing a compelling scientific case about why the badger vaccination route is a valid and more practical alternative to badger culling.
Then the event moved to questions and answers, and ended with the traditional media interviews and photo opportunities, many of them focussing on Dr. Brian May from Save Me and Team Badger, who as expected does not miss occasions like this to keep championing the badgers’ cause.
The BACVI is starting as a fundraising initiative, and once enough funds have been gathered, specific vaccination projects can begin on the ground. It normally takes a while for this sort of thing to take off, but the difference here is that BACVI is already starting with a very healthy push.
Today it was announced that Brian May and the ethical cosmetics company Lush have promised a substantial donation for the fund, and IFAW decided to help financially as well. We do know that there are many “vaccinators” our there who have already been trained with the protocols of FERA (Food and Environmental Agency), and many small and not so small vaccination projects have already been created and are just waiting for financial help. There certainly will not be a lack of projects to fund with the money raised by BACVI.
That vaccination of badgers and cattle is the solution to Bovine TB is a no-brainer, really. The current injectable badger vaccine is called BCG, and it has already been seen to result in a reduction of 74% of badgers testing positive to Bovine TB after vaccination. A comparable rate in vaccinating humans is around 55%.
The progression, severity and excretion of bTB have been found to be reduced after vaccination in badgers that had already been infected, and badger cubs born to vaccinated adults have been found to have indirect protection against bTB. This means that you do not have to vaccinate all the badgers to have a significant impact, and you do not have to vaccinate the same badger more than once (but if you do it does not have a negative effect as far as the disease is concerned). But most importantly, in comparison with culling, vaccination does not disrupt the social and ecological behaviour of the badgers, so there is no “perturbation effect” (which is an effect seen with culling, where badgers move into the now vacant territories, spreading the infection).
And here is the clincher: it is now even cheaper to vaccinate than to cull. The pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire cost more than £7m - equivalent to more than £4,000 per badger killed. In comparison, each badger vaccine costs £20, every trap £100, and staff time to carry out the baiting of traps and injections are costs that are proposed to be offset through the use of volunteers and ‘Lay Vaccinators’, who nevertheless will be properly trained by FERA.
So, not only have the badger cull trials failed, but we do have an alternative that is better, cheaper, more effective and more popular. A no-brainer.
Robbie Marsland, IFAW’s UK director, is out of the country at the moment lobbying against whaling, but had this to say:
“We are delighted to be involved with this national vaccination initiative aimed at tackling the grave issue of bovine TB. This should be coupled with strict control on cattle movements and enhanced cattle protection. By combining cattle based solutions with wildlife vaccination we hope this will stamp out the scourge of bovine TB and protect badgers from needless culls.”
In his absence, it fell to me to get the obligatory photo by the new logo, together with any of the other funders of my choice.
I chose Brian May.