Many of us feel a bit faint hearted when faced with a medical intervention. Vaccination may be nerve-wrecking to some, but most understand that its benefits far outweigh the fear. Vaccination will bring us relief, protect us from life-threatening disease, and will restore our ability to return to a “normal” life. This is why working together with authorities to ensure better preparedness for identifying and controlling diseases in the future is a priority for the animal health industry.
The many benefits of animal vaccination are also gaining awareness. With disease prevention becoming an ever more evident necessity, more people are starting to realise the importance of protecting animal health. Not just for animal well-being benefits, but also for protecting our own health.
A recent survey commissioned by AnimalhealthEurope across eight European countries for the second time since 2016 showed that awareness of the many benefits of animal vaccination is growing. 68 percent of those surveyed in 2020 say the vaccination of farm animals helps to prevent diseases being transferred to people versus 55 percent in 2016. And 61 percent say regular vaccination can help to reduce the use of veterinary antibiotics in farm animals versus 55 percent in 2016.
Overall, the awareness of the benefits of animal medicines including vaccines is well-regarded with 77 percent recognising that healthy farm animals also enable farmers to produce and supply food in a sustainable manner. Yet vaccination is not consistently the first port of call for farmers when it comes to animal health planning.
Some pathogens, like salmonella, can be harboured in poultry for example, but the flock may not be adversely affected, so the benefits of vaccination may be overlooked. Yet Europe has demonstrated what other benefits can be drawn from promoting the vaccination of our farm animals.
“With disease prevention becoming an ever more evident necessity, more people are starting to realise the importance of protecting animal health”
Some European countries supported famers by offering subsidies enabling Salmonella vaccination which proved to be an effective measure in tackling the disease occurrence in people. Thanks to EU coordinated programmes with poultry vaccination as a key element, we have seen an almost 50 percent drop in cases between the early 2000s and today (192,703 cases vs. 87,923).
Disease prevention is always preferable to treatment of a disease, and preventive care is a solid basis for animal welfare. Many practices and tools exist which can support disease prevention, but vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent a disease from occurring and then spreading to people or other animals.
And for infectious diseases that can pass between animal species, or where the pathogens carried by animals cause disease in people, veterinary vaccines can help break this cycle of transmission. For this reason, continuing to work together with authorities to ensure better preparedness for identifying and controlling diseases in the future is a priority.
There are two key areas where the EU can support efforts for greater vaccination of Europe’s farm animal population to ensure better prevention and preparedness:
- Incentivising the research and development of vaccines against emerging diseases
- Improving vaccine acceptability and uptake on farms
Based on learnings from the rapid development of Bluetongue and Schmallenberg vaccines, we know that facilitating vaccine development by optimising existing regulatory tools will greatly contribute to improved preparedness.
As we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, flexibility and speed enabling regulatory approvals can be achieved during emergencies, without compromising the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccines developed.
When it comes to animal disease, practical implementation of regulatory flexibility can be more difficult at a pan-EU level compared to Member State level, where faster decisions can be taken by the Member State in which a disease is present and affecting its animal population.
To improve preparedness for emerging diseases which may threaten public health as well as animal health and welfare, it would be useful to establish and maintain a list of criteria for diseases that are eligible for fast-track approval of vaccines.
“Disease prevention is always preferable to treatment of a disease, and preventive care is a solid basis for animal welfare”
Prioritising investment at national and European level in innovative early research through funding programmes such as Horizon Europe can also enable the development of new generations of vaccines and allow for fast modification if a new disease variant appears.
And supporting the establishment of antigens and/or vaccine banks, including diseases not yet present in the EU, will help enable a rapid response in case of an outbreak.
Preventive measures on farms such as biosecurity and vaccination should be promoted and, when possible, supported as sustainable farm management practices to the benefit of public health, animal welfare, economic and environmental perspectives.
For this to work, the EU needs to help facilitate animal disease detection and prevention and actively support the uptake of the technologies and preventive tools for veterinarians and farmers that help improve animal health and welfare and sustainable farming practices.
Encouraging support schemes for farmers to use vaccination and raise awareness of the beneﬁts of vaccination, as well as other new technologies advancing animal health, will help ensure we overcome our future health challenges.