Cutting Costs - Do we Really Need to Vaccinate?06 November 2012
Not so long ago veterinarians spent a lot of time trying to convince their clients of the benefits of prevention rather than cure, and in particular the economic benefits of vaccination. However, vaccination is like insurance: if you don’t have to make a claim, you always wonder if you really needed it.
The development of more reliable diagnostic tools over recent decades has provided a more concrete basis on which to build a vaccination strategy with a more predictable return on investment. Modern diagnostics are able to identify specific pathogen subtypes based on genetic sequencing. Accurate and specific information of this sort can ensure that the most appropriate vaccine and vaccination schedule is applied for an individual group of animals, so producers can be reassured that the money they spend on prevention is less likely to be wasted.
Appropriate vaccination will reduce the amount of money that has to be spent on treatment, and in particular antimicrobial drugs. At a time when farmers are under pressure from government agencies and consumers to reduce their usage of these drugs, the benefits go beyond the purely financial.
The ultimate aim is to achieve a disease-free herd or flock and then keep it that way by careful surveillance and good biosecurity. Modern diagnostics can help in both situations. Regular monitoring of the environment and the animals themselves can identify disease risks before infection occurs and before any clinical signs develop. Rapid test results, such as those obtained from real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction), can be used to test new additions to the herd, and those animals that have been transported – reducing the need for lengthy quarantine and the risk of disease being introduced.
Although vaccination, surveillance and good biosecurity can undoubtedly reduce disease risk, there will always be times when individual animals become sick and require treatment. Here again, diagnostic tests can help to identify the causative agent and thus allow the most effective treatment to be administered quickly. In the past, the time taken to culture samples from animals meant that a best-guess treatment may have been started initially while the test results were awaited. By the time the results were back, the issue may well have been decided one way or the other anyway
The advent of tests based on molecular biology, such as real-time PCR, means that some pathogens can be identified in little over 24 hours – and with great accuracy. So the most appropriate treatment can be given very early on and thus increase the chances of a successful outcome, not only for the individual animals but also for the group as a whole, as the risk of a bigger disease outbreak is reduced.
Strategic vaccination, targeted treatment and regular surveillance are essential cornerstones of our increasingly productive food animal production systems. They are able to significantly improve animal health and welfare, and reduce disease-related losses and production variation. Appropriate use of modern diagnostic tools can optimise herd health management based on these principles, and make sure that the money that producers spend on disease control is minimised and not wasted.
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