Many Wildlife Trusts and badger groups vaccinate badgers against bTB around the country. What's it all about?
Bovine TB is a disease of cattle which can be spread from cattle to a range of other animals, including badgers.
It is also believed that badgers can pass bTB back to cattle, though to a very small extent. Scientific studies have concluded that only 5.7% of new outbreaks can be attributed directly to badgers.
Experts believe the core issue is a reservoir of infection within cattle herds which is undetected due to the poor accuracy of the widely used skin test. Increasingly, manure and slurry are seen as a key transmission route between cattle and it seems likely this is how infection is spread to badgers feeding on infected fields. Read more.
bTB will not be resolved without stopping this cycle of infection within our cattle herds. The question remains as to whether badger control is also required or whether infection within the badger population would die out in the absence of transmission from cattle. The Government policy assumes badger control is required and focuses majorly on culling largely healthy badgers in unthinkable numbers. This has yet to yield results even after 6 years and moreover culling is wrong on many counts.
Whilst this question remains unanswered, arguably vaccination of badgers may play a role alongside cattle-based measures. Vaccination is safe, humane and socially acceptable. It protects healthy badgers and reduces the severity and progression of bTB in the few infected badgers. It may also provide peace of mind to a farmer who, whilst following measures to break the infection cycle in cattle, knows that only vaccinated badgers occupy the setts on his land.
Why vaccinate badgers against bTB?
What does badger vaccination involve?
How are badgers vaccinated?
Vaccination of badgers against bTB is a Defra licensed process, undertaken by fully trained and accredited individuals. It is done by injection of a trapped animal in a process that from start to finish takes around 2-3 weeks.
Pre-planning is very important to ensure that the maximum number of badgers are vaccinated, so tasks such as deciding where to site the cage traps and place the peanut bait are very important.
Cage traps are usually sited near runs or latrines and over a period of 7-10 days volunteers will lay peanut bait to encourage badgers to enter the traps. Once badgers are taking all bait successfully, the traps are set to capture for 2 consecutive nights. Very early in the morning of the vaccination, trained vaccinators will check the cage traps and vaccinate any badgers caught. The badgers are given a visual health-check, temporarily marked and then released.
How often does vaccination take place?
A full vaccination scheme takes place over 4 years and is carried out between May to November. This annual approach may result in some badgers being vaccinated several times, but helps to maintain coverage by vaccinating cubs, or new additions to an existing badger clan. Studies have proved that when 1/3 of a social group is vaccinated, new infections in unvaccinated cubs are reduced by 79% - so it’s a win win!
What effect does vaccination have on badgers?
Badgers are vaccinated with the same vaccine that is used for humans (BCG) and there is no evidence to show that vaccinating badgers causes them any harm. Neither does it lead to changes in badgers' behavior or “perturbation”. With badgers typically living for 3 – 5 years, a 4 year programme aims to have a happy, healthy, bTB free population.
Are there any alternatives to vaccinating by injection?
Oral vaccines for badgers are still in development. These could be cheaper and more effective to deliver, but concerns arise as to how the vaccinators could be certain of the number of badgers in a sett that had taken the bait.
Researchers are stating that it could be some time before an oral vaccine may be licensed, but it is good to know that they are working on it!