From the September issue of Bovine Veterinarian: As researchers, animal-health officials and industry stakeholders develop response strategies in case of a domestic outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD), it has become clear that vaccination could play a critical role. But, according to a coalition of agricultural organizations, our current vaccine bank and ability to scale up vaccine production in an emergency are not even close to adequate.

The group, including the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation and other livestock, grain and feed associations recently send a letter to Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. In the letter, the groups outline weaknesses and funding shortfalls in the current system and ask Roberts to work with USDA and industry to improve the nation’s preparedness for an FMD outbreak.

The volume of vaccine needed would depend on the type and scope of an outbreak. James Roth, DVM, PhD, DACVM, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public Health (CFSPH), has defined six types of potential FMD outbreaks, ranging from Type 1, a focal outbreak, to Type 6, a catastrophic North American outbreak, with the type influencing appropriate response strategies. At the lower end of the scale, the response likely would focus on stamping out, or culling all infected or exposed animals in the affected zone. But as the outbreak spreads to a larger regional or national scale, stamping out becomes unrealistic, and the response would shift toward alternative strategies including vaccination that could involve millions of animals.

In January 2014, the CFSPH issued a draft white paper titled “FMD Vaccine Surge Capacity for Emergency Use in the United States,” with Dr. Roth the lead author. The authors estimate the cost of funding adequate surge capacity at $150 million per year for five years — a relatively small price to protect a livestock industry that generates $100 billion per year in cash receipts.

New funding streams would, however, need to be developed, either through the industry or industry-government partnerships. Discussing this issue at the Cattle Industry Summer Conference, APHIS Veterinary Services Executive Director Burke Healey, DVM, said the estimated cost of $150 million per year essentially matches the entire annual budget at APHIS-VS.

Currently, APHIS manages a vaccine bank at Plum Island, NY, along with storage of vaccine antigen concentrate for a limited number of FMD strains. In the event of an outbreak, the antigen would be shipped to England or France for production of finished vaccine for shipment back to the United States.

The program is currently funded at $1.9M annually, and the groups say there is not enough vaccine available to handle more than a small, localized event, and the number of antigen strains maintained at Plum Island is limited. Turnaround time for vaccine delivery could involve months for the doses needed in a large outbreak.

In their letter to Roberts, ag groups note they have requested several steps from APHIS:

·         Contract for an off shore FMD vaccine bank to provide vaccine antigen concentrate for all FMD strains currently circulating.

·         Contract for production capacity that would quickly produce the millions of vaccine doses needed in the event of a medium or large scale outbreak.

·         Issue a request for proposals to determine cost estimates.  

·         Request, through the President’s budget, funds sufficient to address this critical vulnerability.