A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. It typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism, and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe or its toxins.

It is always preferable to prevent disease rather than having to resort to treatment for both animals and people. The animal health industry along with the OIE support the strategy that “Prevention is better than cure”. For food-producing animals, good husbandry, including efficient bio-security measures, is an important factor in prevention of diseases but animals can become ill and highly infectious diseases can spread rapidly with devastating results.

Vaccines are an essential part of the veterinarian’s toolbox. Through vaccination, the veterinarian can improve natural immunity by stimulating the response before disease strikes. In addition, with vaccines, farmers can protect entire flocks or herds. From a consumer perspective vaccines help to enhance safety. Healthy animals means a better quality of animal products but it also means protection from harmful food-borne pathogens. For zoonotic disease organisms such as salmonella poisoning, vaccination can greatly reduce the health risk for the consumer.

Vaccination has profoundly influenced and improved the health of both animals and people globally, and it will continue to be a fundamental tool to meet future health challenges. It has eliminated smallpox in people and can control many other diseases against which no other treatment exists, such as human Polio, Foot-and-Mouth Disease in cattle, canine Distemper and Rabies in man and animals. Vaccines for Rabies have made huge strides in combating this serious disease and many countries have gained WHO rabies-free status. Nevertheless, half of the global population, especially in the developing world, lives in canine Rabies-endemic areas and the disease still kills on average 70,000 people every year according to the OIE. Projects exist where our industry helps with providing local funding, Rabies vaccines and training to support the successful implementation of vaccination programmes.

For more information on the importance of vaccines for protecting animal and human health you can also view our infographic.

One of history’s most notorious examples of a devastating animal disease is rinderpest, an infectious, viral disease affecting cattle and other cloven-hoofed animals. A recorded threat to farmers for over 3,000 years, the mortality rate during outbreaks was devastating, often wiping out the entire infected herd, resulting in widespread suffering, starvation and poverty. Through an unprecedented collaborative effort between governments, scientists, and veterinarians for a widespread vaccination programme coordinated by the UN FAO and the OIE, Rinderpest was officially declared eliminated in the world in June 2011.

New diseases are constantly emerging however and the animal health industry recognises the challenge of bringing the benefits of vaccines to less developed areas of the world, where rural societies are often dependent on animals for their nutrition and livelihood. Research into modern technologies provides an opportunity to meet these challenges. One of the earliest developments in animal health was an Aujeszky’s disease vaccine, which allowed a successful eradication programme in several European countries.

The use of biotechnology and cutting-edge research means that new vaccines can be developed in the future against diseases for which currently it is impossible to vaccinate. With improvements in vaccines and reduction in cold-chain requirements, it should become possible to include more animals in vaccination programmes in developing countries. This will contribute to better standards of animal health and farming prosperity, which in turn benefit human health and help sustain local economies.

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