Controversy Over Voluntary EI Vaccination

Published: March 25, 2010 01:09 pm EDT

Harness Racing Australia has announced that it is deeply concerned at reports that the Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, will advocate for voluntary vaccination of

horses from Equine Influenza.

HRA Chief Executive Andrew Kelly today said, “allowing for voluntary vaccination against EI is an admission of failure and a vote of no confidence in the abilities of Australia’s quarantine authorities to defend our borders from exotic diseases. We know that’s not the case.”

Kelly said that by allowing for voluntary vaccination, Australia would be ignoring the weight of scientific and veterinary opinion that universally warns that vaccination will mask the presence of EI in infected animals into the future.

“While EI remains exotic to Australia, HRA remains firmly opposed to any routine use of EI vaccine as a risk mitigation measure. The result of taking this action is that a vaccinated animal may not develop the symptoms of EI or the disease itself but that same animal will be able to transmit the disease to non-vaccinated animals. This will only contribute to EI spreading over time throughout the country. That will only hurt Australia’s horse industry, from mum’s and dad’s with their weekend ponies right through to the horse racing industry itself.”

The economic cost of allowing for voluntary vaccination is potentially very significant.

“The harness racing industry makes a significant economic contribution to our states and territories, with the harness racing industry contributing more than $310 million in state and territory taxes during 2006/07 (the most recent data available), generated from more than $1.9 billion in TAB wagering activity. This equates to approximately 16 per cent of the entire Australian racing wagering market.

"The clearest and most robust conclusion of the analysis we have seen is that endemicity is costly. The hard working families of harness racing and breeding participants should not be forced to accept any proposal that increases any risk of Australia defaulting to EI endemicity and which could lead to what leading experts have dubbed ‘the remorseless accumulation of costs associated with vaccination, management of passport systems and .... loss of productivity.’”

In the more than 30 months since the first outbreak of EI in Australia, enhanced quarantine controls arising from the Callinan Inquiry’s recommendations have meant that there has been no further EI outbreaks in Australia.

HRA believe that quarantine matters and is working. There are viable alternatives to a vaccination approach for EI and the other 21 exotic diseases which potentially threaten our horse industry.

HRA urges industry and government cooperation to establish a statutory horse disease response levy and signing of the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) as a priority to ensure that the Australian equine industry is not encumbered with a costly and unnecessary vaccination program.