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How to increase animal vaccination? Four things we learned

It’s thanks to vaccines that human diseases like smallpox, polio and tetanus are either eradicated or rarely seen.  These medicines are considered the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases – saving millions of lives every year and protecting millions more lives from illness. 

The impact is no different in animals. Vaccines not only promote better health and animal welfare, they reduce reliance on antibiotics, foster greater sustainability on farm and strengthen economies. But their potential is still not fully realized.

Global uptake for animals is below optimal levels but our new report discusses ways to remedy this. We pick out four of notable findings.

Rinderpest reminds us eradication is possible through vaccination

Rinderpest was once a devastating cattle disease but in 2011 it became the first animal disease to be eradicated globally, thanks to its vaccine. 

We can learn from its road to eradication. The vaccine that was developed could be produced in sufficient quantities, gave long lasting protection and had no adverse reactions, while it was easy to transport and store 

It wouldn’t have been possible without a huge collaborative international and regional drive. Infected, at-risk and EU countries delivered the collective funding necessary to provide the levels of support, research and development needed to deliver targeted rinderpest vaccination. 

It serves as proof that similar cooperation programs with clear objectives and diverse, reliable funding can build sustainable models for not just disease control but eradication too. 

Policymakers must promote trade of vaccinated animals

 Although vaccination is an effective method to counter disease outbreak – as with any treatment, it cannot be a 100% guarantee against infection. Because of this, animals that have been vaccinated can bring trade to a halt for fear of spreading the infection, leading some nations to prioritize culling over vaccination during an outbreak. 

Countries must revisit their trade conditions, if we are to improve sustainability and welfare on-farm. It means putting confidence in strategies that help herds overcome outbreaks, which center on vaccination schemes combined with animal movement restrictions. This is already happening in some parts of the world, for example, several EU nations including Germany and The Netherlands now allow this strategy for Bovine Viral Diarrhea control.   

One Health needs to be activated on the ground

Livestock contributes up to 40 percent of the global agricultural GDP , making animal health part of the foundation of economies worldwide. Despite this, government budgets for animal health are universally a small fraction of the amount dedicated to human health. 

It’s a signal that although One Health is encouraged globally, it is rarely implemented on the ground. The fight towards rabies eradication is a significant example where dog vaccination is not prioritized over human vaccination even though it is the most economical and effective way to eradicate human rabies, more than 95 percent of which is contracted through a dog bite.

Global demand for vaccines is greater than supply, but this is changing

Availability of vaccines is an issue for a number of reasons, for example, some vaccines are only produced by one or two companies, and in emerging economies it’s difficult to secure quality local manufacturers and the cold chain transportation and storage necessary. Meanwhile, it’s no surprise that many diseases exist without a suitable vaccine.

But greater access is being addressed. Manufacture and production capabilities are increasing in Asia, India, China and Latin America although this will take five to ten years to reach full capacity due to the complexity of biological production. 

More work must be done to make vaccination administration easier, which doesn’t use injections that require trained operators. New methods of giving vaccinations are being tested and in future we could see them administered through chewable tablets, and even in drinking water.

We need to provide the right conditions to promote vaccine use. It’s a complex path that requires a huge amount of resource but, if we can harness this chance to transform animal health it could save thousands more human lives. 

What to know more? Read our in-depth report on ‘Barriers to animal vaccination’.