Now more than ever, Americans have a greater sense of how important vaccines are for not only preventing disease but also for maintaining our everyday lives. Coronavirus is ravaging the human population right now, following a devastating year in China where nearly half its hog population was destroyed by African Swine Fever. These back-to-back examples of how devastating disease can be when we have no defense against it has helped increased the urgency for making sure our available defenses on other fronts are properly shored up.

Recently, the U.S. announced an important step in that process that veterinarians, researchers, and industry experts have long been calling for – bulking up the U.S. supply of vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). The USDA just awarded a major contract to Boehringer Ingelheim to create and maintain a strategic reserve of frozen antigen concentrate that the company can quickly formulate into a vaccine in the event of a U.S. outbreak. The stockpiles will be held at the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank (NAVVCB), commonly known as the U.S. vaccine bank.

Experts say current U.S. stockpiles are insufficient to prevent widespread devastation to both the health and business of livestock in the U.S. FMD is extremely difficult to control due to its highly contagious nature and a single case of the disease can get a country barred from international trade for extended periods of time. James Roth, a professor in the department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventative Medicine at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, warned earlier this year that if an FMD outbreak occurred in the U.S., absent a U.S.-based FMD vaccine bank, it could take 10 years to get rid of it. That could result in estimated losses of as much as $128 billion for the U.S. pork and beef industry, and $69 billion for the corn and soybean sectors.

Being able to quickly formulate and distribute a vaccine is key to preventing a widespread outbreak. National Pork Producers Council chief veterinarian Liz Wagstrom explains that the current stockpiles, held at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, have to first be shipped to the vaccine vendor in France, reconstituted, adjuvanted, bottled, and then shipped back to the U.S. The industry fully recognizes that this is far from efficient, hence the push for a U.S.-based vaccine bank.

The NAVVCB was created under the 2018 Farm Bill which set aside funding for the vaccine bank and other measures to protect the U.S. against foreign disease outbreaks. In January, the vaccine bank was awarded $10.2 million by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support disease prevention and emergency response training.  Beyond FMD vaccines, USDA is working with local governments, agriculture organizations, and other stakeholders to consider which other pathogens should be priorities. (Sources: National Hog Farmer, AVMA, NPPC, Agdaily)

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