RPO welcomes new vaccine against bluetongue

The recent announcement by Design Biologix, a vaccine researcher, developer and manufacturer, that it has registered a bluetongue vaccine for South Africa has been welcomed by the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO).

RPO welcomes new vaccine against bluetongue
The announcement of a new vaccine against bluetongue comes as a lifeline to South African sheep producers, according to James Faber, chairperson of the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation.
Photo: Annelie Coleman
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James Faber, RPO chairperson, said it would have been extremely difficult for the country’s small-stock farmers to continue production without the vaccine, as vaccine shortages at Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) continue to hurt livestock producers.

“The current shortage of vaccines has had a very negative impact on sheep production in South Africa. [OBP] has been unable to produce adequate vaccinations to immunise sheep against the disease. The delay in the production of vaccines against diseases such as bluetongue means that […] some producers [have lost as] much as 50% of their flocks. The announcement by Design Biologix of the registration of the vaccine has come as a major relief,” he told Farmer’s Weekly.

The company said in a statement that it had initiated a project to conduct epidemiological surveillance of the prevalent serotypes for the orbivirus that causes bluetongue disease in sheep in South Africa in 2017. This project led to the development of a locally relevant bluetongue vaccine called BLU-VAX (G4534).

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Due to the emergency registration process, the evaluation of the vaccine had not been as extensive as it would have been under normal circumstances for product development. However, the company has committed to further vaccine evaluation post-registration, as well as epidemiological studies to continue evaluating the extent of the disease.

The RPO earlier expressed concern about the shortage of strategic vaccines in the livestock and animal industries.

“If it were not for the new vaccines, the sheep and mutton production in the country would have been forced to its knees,” Faber added.

According to Dr Danie Odendaal, director of the South African Veterinarian Network, bluetongue was an infectious vector-borne and potentially fatal viral disease, which was spread by biting midges. The disease was characterised by symptoms such as fever, excessive salivation and swelling of the face and tongue.

“Vaccination is the most effective way to minimise losses and interrupt the cycle from infected animal to vector,” Odendaal added.

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Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.