EU urges governments to order bluetongue vaccine
By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU countries should order now a new vaccine to fight a resurgence this year of bluetongue, the virus that ravaged northern Europe's cattle and sheep in 2007, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a one-day conference, Kyprianou said central EU funding would meet the costs of buying the vaccine, likely to be available by the spring, and half the costs of administration.
Several drugs companies have been developing the vaccine for the particular strain of bluetongue that occurred last year in northern Europe -- serotype 8, one of 24 recognized.
Until now, no vaccine for that strain has been available.
The companies include Pfizer Inc, Intervet, now owned by U.S. pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough Corp, and Merial Ltd -- a joint venture between Merck & Co. and Sanofi-Aventis.
"In principle, 100 percent of the costs of the purchase of the vaccine and 50 percent of the costs of the application of the vaccine will be covered by the Community budget," he said.
That funding would be subject to certain ceilings that would be set once the vaccine's final cost was known, Kyprianiou said, adding that between 150 and 200 million doses would probably be needed for an emergency vaccination campaign during 2008.
European Commission experts have estimated the cost of one vaccine dose at around 0.50 euro ($0.742). While that price will probably be fixed, administration costs vary widely across the EU's 27 countries, mainly due to differing vets' salaries.
Spread by midges, bluetongue had previously tended to occur in more southerly parts of the European Union until 2006, when it moved much further north. Last year was even worse, with more than 50,000 confirmed cases in 11 countries.
Apart from Italy, Portugal and Spain, which have a history of the disease in other serotypes, countries affected by serotype 8 in 2007 were Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Czech Republic.
"The Commission now urges the member states concerned to complete ... the necessary tendering procedures and place actual orders for the vaccines which are now becoming available, so that they are ready to go when the time comes," Kyprianou said.
Bluetongue does not affect humans and there is no risk of contracting it by consuming milk or meat from infected animals.
The disease is characterized by inflammation of the mucous membranes, congestion, swelling and hemorrhages. Sheep, rather than cattle, are often the worst affected animals.
Bluetongue vaccination has been successfully used in a number of EU countries that have been affected by the disease. Italy, Spain, France and Portugal have all used vaccination.
Vaccines against bluetongue can either be inactive vaccines or modified live virus (MLV) vaccines.
Inactivated vaccines, administered in two separate doses, can fully protect animals for a long period while MLVs create protective immunity after a single inoculation.
(Editing by Chris Johnson)