Badgers are to get the human TB vaccination, to stop the spread of the disease to cattle
Irish badgers are to be given the human vaccination against TB, in a newly announced programme to halt the spread of the killer disease to cattle, while protecting the badger population.
It means a reprieve for what is Ireland's biggest terrestial carnivore, as the killing of badgers is to be gradually phased out.
The Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, TD has today Monday January 15, announced that vaccination of badgers against tuberculosis (TB) will commence as an integral part of the bovine TB eradication programme from January 2018.
"This marks a major step forward in the bovine TB eradication programme. The move follows years of scientific research funded by my Department into the use of BCG vaccine in badgers, designed to reduce the impact of disease in this wildlife host back into the cattle population," Minister Creed said.
Citing recent research findings that confirms that vaccination of badgers can play a role in reducing the level of infection in cattle, he said it is "not a silver bullet".
"It is important in that it addresses one of the critical elements within the complex TB eradication challenge. This will now allow us move forward in the early part of this year to the development and re-launch, in consultation with stakeholders, of a comprehensive strategy to finally eradicate TB ".
Vaccination of badgers will be carried out by staff from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The vaccination programme will commence in the areas which have already been part of the field trials demonstrating the effectiveness of badger vaccination. It will roll out incrementally to other parts of the country over time, with vaccination gradually replacing the need to remove badgers.
Minister Creed said that vaccination of badgers enables Ireland move forward towards eradication of bovine TB in a controlled holistic way, which will serve to protect the badger population whilst also protecting cattle and the livelihoods of farmers.
Tuberculosis (TB) in cattle is threat to public health, animal health and trade. The Department and industry invest significant sums in a TB eradication programme each year.
Bovine TB is caused by Mycobacterium bovis, and this organism may also infect badgers. There is widespread infection in the badger population in Ireland. Infected badgers can transmit TB back to cattle.
The current TB eradication programme includes the removal of badgers under licence in certain circumstances, following epidemiological investigations linking infection in cattle to badgers. This intervention strategy is designed to reduce the spread of transmission from badgers to cattle.
Ireland is a signatory of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of Wildlife, and is committed to protecting Irish wildlife. The long-term removal of badgers is not a sustainable or desirable strategy.
Research funded by the Dept of Agriculture has demonstrated a protective effect in badgers of vaccinating them with Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG), a TB vaccine used in humans. The most recent research has also demonstrated that a badger vaccine programme, as operated in the field trial environment, has a similar effect to badger removal with regard to reducing the risk of TB transmission from badgers to cattle.