Badger and Cattle Vaccination Initiative (BACVI)

The Badger and Cattle Vaccination Initiative engages with farmers, government and stakeholders to find a sustainable and effective path for the reduction of bTB in cattle and in wildlife. There is currently no cattle vaccination available for use 

Why vaccinate badgers against bovine TB?

Vaccinating badgers reduces the severity of the disease in those that become infected from cattle.

What vaccine is being used?

The only vaccine that is currently available for use against TB in any species, including humans, is Bacille Calmette–Guérin (BCG). The only difference between the human BCG and Badger BCG, the UK licensed the vaccine for badgers, is that the dose given to badgers is higher than that given to humans.

Is the vaccine safe for use in badgers?

Yes. Scientific research has been carried out which demonstrated that BCG was safe for use in badgers. This was necessary in order for the vaccine to be licensed for use by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

Do you have to vaccinate every badger?

No. Only a proportion of the susceptible population is need to benefit from the protective effects of the vaccine in order to reduce the prevalence of infection in the population. This is known as herd immunity and works on the principle that if some of the population are protected from the disease it is less likely that an infected individual will come into contact with  susceptible cattle , therefore, the disease is less likely to be passed on. Obviously, the higher the proportion of protected individuals in a population, the lower the number of animals that could become infected.

How will badgers be vaccinated?

Currently, the only available vaccine is an injectable one. Badgers are trapped in cages, injected with the vaccine then released.

Are there any welfare issues with trapping badgers for vaccination?

Cage trapping of badgers has been undertaken for over 30 years. Research has shown that, when trapping is carried out by properly trained and experienced personnel, the number of badgers injured in cage traps is very low, with the majority of those injured only suffering minor abrasions.

Why is it taking so long for vaccines to be widely available when we’ve been vaccinating humans for years?

Whilst the programme of work has been designed to minimise the time required on delivering licensed vaccines, research, by its nature, takes time and much of the work has to be carried out sequentially. There are defined steps in obtaining a licence, or Marketing Authorisation, from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for vaccines, which include studies to demonstrate both vaccine safety and efficacy. New diagnostic tests for badgers had to be developed initially, starting in 1999, to enable badger vaccine research to begin.

What research has gone into vaccines, how much has been invested and what agencies are involved?

Defra has been funding research into TB vaccines for use in cattle and badgers since 1998 and the total investment in vaccine development has reached more than £30 million. Defra has been working alongside the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which leads the vaccine research on Defra’s behalf and The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), which has over 30 years experience of trapping and injecting badgers. Defra also maintains close links with international researchers particularly in the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand. Defra and the VLA are also working in close cooperation with researchers working on new vaccines for TB in humans.

Does it fully protect all badgers that are vaccinated?

As with any vaccine, not all vaccinated individuals will be fully protected. A recent field study of wild badgers showed that, of the badgers that tested negative for TB at the outset, vaccination led to a significant reduction in the incidence of positive responses to a blood test that we know is a good indicator of the extent and severity of TB infection.

What is happening with vaccination of wildlife against bovine TB in other countries?

They are currently carrying out research into oral vaccination of badgers in Ireland and injectable and oral vaccination of possums in New Zealand.

Why can’t you use oral vaccine bait?

There is research currently underway in the UK into developing oral vaccine bait for use in badgers. The vaccine is as effective as the injectable one and is currently undergoing safety tests for its licence.

What effect does vaccination have on badgers?

Research has demonstrated that vaccination reduces the severity and progression of TB in badgers that were experimentally and artificially infected with bovine TB. BCG vaccination also reduced the number of bacteria excreted in urine, faeces and other clinical samples. 

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