Foot-and-mouth disease is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals, including domestic and wild bovids. The virus causes a high fever for two or three days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness. Although the disease is not contagious to humans, it can have serious economic impacts.
The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the U.K. in 2001 and South Korea in 2011 resulted in the slaughter of millions of animals and huge economic losses for livestock and food industries.
Fearing similar severe consequences if the highly contagious animal disease were to appear in the United States, federal scientists worked for years to develop and win approval of a unique new vaccine to protect America’s cows, sheep and pigs.
The leader of the federal team that shepherded this livestock vaccine to licensure is Michelle Colby, a veterinarian and branch chief in the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For her work Colby has been nominated for a Service to America Medal Awards. The Sammies are the Oscars for federal employees.
Colby told me on the DorobekINSIDER program that the collaboration between the USDA, DHS and private companies made this vaccination possible.
The vaccine was created by research chemist Marvin Grubman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service at Plum Island Animal Disease Center in collaboration with GenVec, a biopharmaceutical company. DHS colleagues Bruce Harper, John Neilan and others took the lead in further development and managed the research needed for the licensure process, reports the Partnership for Public Service.
“My role in the process was mainly coordination. I helped push for developing and licensing of an emergency vaccine. I made sure the resources were properly allocated, helped deal with the regulatory authorities and build a consensus among live stock groups,” said Colby.
“Pathogens do not respect borders. With recent outbreaks in Egypt and in South Korea and the increase in global trade, the ability for agro-terrorism is something we have to be very concerned about,” said Colby.
- The bottom-line is if we have an outbreak of food-and-mouth disease the majority of our exports will be halted. Agriculture is a net positive trade balance for the US, so it really doesn’t matter where the threat comes from whether it is natural or intentional. But this is one of those things because there is foot-and-mouth disease other places in the world it is very accessible if someone wanted to potentially cause harm to the US.
How the Vaccine works
“This is the first ever foot-and-mouth vaccine licensed for manufacture in the United States. The breakthrough could potentially save the country billions if not trillions of dollars and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of animals if there were an outbreak,” said Paul Benda, director of the Homeland Security Advance Research Projects Agency.
The new vaccine has been shown to produce protective immunity in livestock and, in the event of an outbreak, would be administered to control transmission.
You can find all our Sammies interviews here.
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