One of the most powerful tools for combatting a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak is vaccination and the North American Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank has a ready stock of a variety of FMD vaccine concentrates, which can rapidly be processed into finished vaccine by manufacturers if needed. Finding a vaccine that is effective against the African swine fever virus has been more challenging though and could take as long as eight years.
“With the threat of it across the globe that we’re seeing and recognizing that it’s a worldwide issue, vaccine is a key concern,” says Burke Healey, associate deputy administrator of veterinary services with USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service. “The challenge we have is the various types. There’s over 20 different types of African swine fever virus out there and it moves between them so it’s not an easy virus to find a good vaccine for, so that’s the big challenge.”
Needing multiple vaccines to address each of the various strains, Healy says the agency is in communication with several different regions around the world.
“We’re reaching out to Asia to try to get some of those strains of the virus so that we can determine how that one plays into what’s in Europe versus what’s in Africa,” Healy says.
USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach says the USDA is also trying to learn more about the current ASF outbreak in Asia.
“We have reached out in Vietnam and some of the testing research that we’re doing in conjunction with Canada, with looking at diagnostics for African swine fever, we’re hoping to maybe have the opportunity to field test in cooperation with Vietnam to be able to verify that they’re accurate or hone our accuracy of those tests,” Ibach says.
In recent testimony to the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, Ibach acknowledgeds that ASF currently is, in his words, “top of mind.”
“We have been monitoring outbreaks of ASF in Europe and Asia for a number of years,” Ibach says. “An outbreak in the U.S. would have severe economic consequences, especially considering there is no vaccine available.”
Ibach says the USDA has put multi-front efforts in place to keep the disease out of the country.
“Aside from our longstanding import restrictions, we have worked with CBP (Customs and Border Protection) to focus inspections on cargo and passengers coming from high risk areas,” Ibach says. “We are training 60 new detector dog teams that help sniff out any illegally imported products carried by passengers or in cargo.”
These kinds of protocols have been in place for decades, Ibach says.
“For 90 years now we'’ve been able to keep foot-and-mouth disease out of the U.S. using these protocols,” Ibach says. “In the face of the threat that African swine fever poses right now we’ve even raised the protocols and the awareness of the protocols, and our coordination with Customs and Border Protection. To have them be a full partner with us, I think is at an all-time high and so we are quite confident yet.”