Cattle farm

Cattle graze at an Angus operation in Pennsylvania. USDA purchased 47.5 million vaccine doses this month to begin its own foot and mouth disease vaccine bank.

After months of delays due to COVID-19, there is a big development in the plan for the U.S. to have a separate vaccine bank, in the unlikely but dreaded event of a foot and mouth disease emergency.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced July 8 the initial purchase of vaccine for the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank. In a project connected to 2018 farm bill programs, APHIS will invest $27.1 million in foot and mouth disease vaccine.

“While we are confident we can keep foot and mouth disease out of the country, as we have since 1929, having access to vaccine is an important insurance policy,” USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach said in a statement. “Vaccines could be an important tool in the event of an incursion of the disease in the U.S, but their use will depend on the circumstances of the incursion and require careful coordination with the affected animal industries.”

National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank is a U.S.-only vaccine bank, distinct from the existing North American Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank. The North American bank is a trilateral partnership between USDA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food. Under that partnership, the U.S. gets about 70% of the vaccine. A U.S.-only bank increases doses available for U.S. producers.

“The NAVVCB is entirely focused on U.S. domestic preparedness, and is a distinct entity,” APHIS spokesperson Lyndsay Cole said, adding that the U.S. will continue to participate in the North American vaccine bank for foot and mouth disease.

Such diseases are not a threat to public health or food safety. Foot and mouth disease that affects livestock is not related to hand, foot and mouth disease, which is a common childhood illness caused by a different virus.

Vaccination helps control the spread of infection by reducing the amount of virus shed by animals and by controlling signs of illness. While an outbreak would temporarily disrupt international markets, vaccination would allow animals to move through domestic production channels.

The vaccine bank is one component of a three-part program of initiatives established by the 2018 farm bill to support animal disease prevention and management. Along with the vaccine bank, there are programs for preparedness and response and for increasing the capabilities of animal health laboratories.

The newly purchased foot and mouth disease vaccines will be stored by the manufacturer. The APHIS purchased the vaccine antigen concentrate, which has a minimum 10-year shelf life. When it’s needed, the antigen is made into finished doses of vaccine, Cole explained.

APHIS is purchasing multiple antigens for a total 47.5 million doses.

In the event of an outbreak, animal health officials would decide when, where and how to use the available vaccine, based on the circumstances of the outbreak.

Amy Hadachek can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.  

Amy Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in North Central Kansas. She's also a meteorologist and storm chaser. Amy can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.