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Dr Beale's editorial1 (January 2002 JRSM) may offer what appears to be a simple and effective solution to the future prevention and control of foot and mouth disease (FMD), but does not consider the objectives and the economics of livestock disease control.
To suggest that we can sustain a mass prophylactic vaccination programme in such a dynamic animal population as exists in European livestock agriculture is unreasonable. With current vaccines it would use about 100 million doses a year in the UK alone, with no guarantee of success. The risk can be managed more effectively and at less cost by other means.
The epidemiologists at the RSM conference on mathematical modelling of infectious diseases made it clear that vaccination programmes would not have been a great help in the control of the recent epidemic. Prophylactic vaccination as suggested by Beale also has its problems, and is not the simple panacea that he suggests. We, the FMD group of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, have made it clear to our agriculture ministers that once you start mass vaccination programmes it is very difficult to stop. The very existence of farm livestock is dependent on their value, and that is dependent on trade. The prevention of clinical disease is not the only consideration when setting objectives for the control of livestock diseases.