…The vaccination provides protection for at least one year and highlighted that future vaccination strategies would be contingent on disease prevalence trends both locally and regionally
By Phurpa Wangmo
In response to the escalating threat of Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) among Bhutan’s livestock, a comprehensive vaccination campaign has been initiated by the National Centre for Animal Health (NCAH) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. The initiative’s primary goal is to arrest the disease’s spread and safeguard the nation’s invaluable cattle resources.
Acknowledging the urgency of this crisis, Bhutan has launched an extensive immunization drive led by the National Centre for Animal Health (NCAH). Recognized as a pivotal tool in the battle against LSD, vaccination not only stands as an efficient approach to disease management and potential eradication but also presents a more feasible strategy compared to alternatives like stamping out and vector control.
Furthermore, this vaccination strategy yields a dual advantage. Firstly, it significantly reduces vulnerability within the community, thereby lowering the potential for disease infiltration and transmission. Additionally, it bestows immunity upon livestock, fortifying them against infection and disrupting the continued propagation of the LSD virus. This comprehensive approach acts as a safeguard against the financial setbacks endured by farmers and stakeholders, stemming from both direct and indirect economic losses.
The inception of this ambitious vaccination campaign has necessitated meticulous logistical preparations. The intricate process of procuring and transporting the vaccine from Turkey to Bhutan has incurred a substantial cost of Nu. 20,535,495. This expense encompasses the acquisition of 338,750 doses of the LSD vaccine. These critical doses, capable of saving lives, were transported using four specialized freeze vans, each allocated to a specific region within the country. The transportation process commenced from August 21.
Underlining the significance of the mission, Dr. Sangay Rinchen, Program Director of NCAH, emphasized the pivotal role of live-attenuated LSD vaccines. Despite the vaccine’s established effectiveness, concerns about potential adverse reactions have arisen. Dr. Sangay clarified that mild reactions observed in cattle, such as localized effects at the vaccination site, are common and generally considered acceptable. These may include temporary fever and a brief reduction in milk yield.
“Occasionally, some animals may exhibit a mild generalized response known as the nettling response. This occurrence is relatively rare and characterized by superficial skin lesions distinct from those caused by the fully virulent field strain. Typically, these lesions fade within 2-3 weeks, without progressing into necrotic scabs or ulcers. Importantly, such side effects are more prominent after the initial vaccination and tend to be minimal or non-existent during subsequent revaccinations,” Dr. Sangay highlighted.
Dr. Sangay also stressed that certain groups of animals are ineligible for the LSD vaccine. These include calves under one month of age, animals displaying clinical signs of LSD, and those currently affected by other diseases. Furthermore, he explained that animals recovering from clinical LSD infections naturally develop immunity, with annual vaccination boosters recommended to sustain their protection.
The collaborative effort between NCAH and the Dzongkhag Livestock Sectors has successfully achieved full coverage across all twenty Dzongkhags by August 23. Commencing in unaffected regions and gradually expanding, this initiative aims for comprehensive coverage within the cattle population. Dr. Sangay noted that the vaccine provides protection for at least a year, with future vaccination strategies contingent on local and regional disease prevalence trends.
Dr. Sangay reiterated the pivotal role of vaccination, especially if disease prevalence remains high in neighboring regions. Despite the natural immunity gained through recovery, he still encouraged vaccination, highlighting its value as an additional protective measure. Full vaccine protection takes about three weeks to develop, during which cattle may remain susceptible to field virus infection.
To facilitate proper vaccine distribution, refrigerated vans have been deployed across districts (Dzongkhags), maintaining the recommended temperature range of 2-8 degrees Celsius. This meticulous approach ensures the vaccine’s efficacy during administration. Districts are equipped with the necessary infrastructure for proper vaccine storage and transportation to remote areas and villages, including vaccine refrigerators, cool boxes, and ice packs.
Lumpyvac, the live-attenuated vaccine, has demonstrated effectiveness in shielding animals against LSD. Widely used in Balkan countries and various parts of Asia, including Nepal, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Vietnam, Lumpyvac provides protection for at least one year post-vaccination.
Local government bodies and livestock farmers play an indispensable role in the success of this monumental vaccination campaign. Their unwavering support and involvement are key to its seamless execution. Dr. Sangay reiterated that united efforts would overcome this challenge, ensuring the future prosperity of Bhutan’s vital livestock industry.
Individuals seeking information about LSD vaccination are advised to contact respective geog centers, veterinary hospitals, or Dzongkhag Livestock Sectors. Additionally, a dedicated helpline (1244) has been established to address queries. Further resources, including the LSD vaccination strategy document, vaccination Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), distribution schedule, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), are accessible on the NCAH website.
As of August 21, reported cases have surged to a staggering 17,118, with 15,545 ongoing infections and 1,573 fatalities. This contagious ailment has cast a shadow over 177 gewogs across 20 districts, presenting a profound challenge to the nation’s vital livestock sector.