If foot and mouth disease (FMD) ever breaks out in U.S. livestock herds, vaccination will play a key role in strategies for controlling the disease and limiting financial losses. Depending on the scope of the outbreak, those strategies could call for vaccinating millions of animals across the country, and doing so quickly for maximum benefit. This week, however, a coalition of agricultural organizations expressed serious concern that our current vaccine bank and our ability to scale up vaccine production in an emergency are not adequate for addressing a medium to large FMD outbreak.

The group, including the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation,

National Pork Producers Council and several grain and feed associations send a letter to Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), who serves as 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 the industry to improve the nation’s preparedness for an FMD outbreak.

Currently, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (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 Pirbright, England or to Lyon, France where, under contract with Merial, it would be used to produce 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 an outbreak beyond a very small, localized event. The groups also note the turnaround time for vaccine delivery could involve weeks for even a small number of doses and months for the number of doses needed in a large outbreak. Also, the number of antigen strains maintained at Plum Island is limited and global surge capacity is inadequate to produce the numbers of doses needed in a major U.S. outbreak.

The livestock industry has requested several steps from APHIS

·         Contract for an off shore FMD vaccine bank that would provide vaccine antigen concentrate for all FMD strains currently circulating in the world.

·         Contract for production capacity that would produce the millions of vaccine doses needed in the event of a medium or large scale outbreak in the shortest amount of time, including surge capacity necessary to address the needs in the early stages of an outbreak.

·         Put out a request for proposals (RFP) to companies regularly engaged in FMD vaccine production so that an estimated cost can be determined.

·         Request, through the President’s budget, funds sufficient to address this critical vulnerability in their mission to protect the U.S. livestock industry.

In their letter, the group asks Roberts and the Senate Agriculture Committee to help move the plan forward. Read the full letter to Chairman Roberts