Australia will consider vaccines as part of the response strategy if an incursion of the highly contagious foot and mouth disease (FMD) is detected in Australia.
A policy statement on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) website states Australia will prepare as though vaccination will be used in the event of an FMD outbreak, to allow preparatory measures to be put in place.
At present there is no FMD vaccine kept in Australia which means in the early investigation phases of an incursion strain typing of the virus would take place before Australia would be able to order the specific strain vaccine rom the United Kingdom, where it is kept.
And according to disease specialists, this process could take up to 14 days.
Group leader at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) Wilna Vosloo said the FMD vaccine is killed or "inactivated".
"Normally killed vaccines are not quite as efficacious as a live vaccine, but it is much safer," Ms Vosloo said.
"During the production process there are a lot of quality control steps to ensure that the virus is completely killed before it goes into the formulation."
She said FMD is a complex virus because it has more than one serotypes.
"There are actually seven serotypes so in effect you have seven different diseases," Ms Vosloo said.
"A vaccine against one serotype is not going to protect against another serotype."
On top of this she said in each serotype there are a number of variants.
"Should we have an outbreak in Australia, we would need to determine what is the serotype, what is the specific variant, and if it is something that we have no intelligence about, we will need first to do some laboratory tests to see what would be the best strain to get in," Ms Vosloo said.
"As soon as we know what variant it is we will know what vaccine to order. That will then need to be formulated and shipped to Australia."
Used alone however, the vaccine will not completely eradicate the disease.
"As we have seen with COVID-19 in humans, if you don't have other control measures, a vaccine is just a tool in a tool kit to control and eradicate a disease," Ms Vosloo said.
"The industry would have to have other measures such as movement control and giving the vaccine time to work because the animals are not immune immediately, it takes time for an immunity to build.
"It is going to be an incredibly important aspect to the tool kit, but it is not going to be the only that that will help control the virus outbreak."
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