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Farm Vaccinations on Hold; Britain Says Disease Slowing

April 05, 2001|From Associated Press

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that a controversial program to vaccinate farm animals against foot-and-mouth disease may not be necessary because widespread slaughter appears to be stemming the epidemic's spread.

Blair's announcement came as Britain's chief government scientist offered an optimistic assessment of the 6-week-old outbreak, saying if officials continue slaughtering infected animals as quickly as possible, and culling those on neighboring farms, it could reduce new cases substantially by June.

"What has happened in the past 10 days has been that the number of new cases . . . has flattened out," Blair told the House of Commons. "We have to see whether that is maintained or not."

Vaccination "remains an option if the containment by slaughter policy does not work," he said.

Blair has been reluctant to approve even limited vaccination because of its harmful impact on trade. But others claim it would be a faster and more humane way to combat the disease.

Chief government scientist David King gave Blair one of the first encouraging takes on the disease Wednesday, and told reporters the daily case toll was finally beginning to decrease.

"I believe the policy is beginning to bite," King said. However, he said continued culls are "the key to getting us on the downward curve."

King was part of a panel of experts who predicted last month that there could be as many as 4,000 cases by June. He also said then that up to half of Britain's 63 million farm animals might have to be sacrificed to stop the disease.

The hopeful reassessment came as the total number of infection sites reached 1,003 on Wednesday.

While the goal of 24 hours from diagnosis to slaughter has not been achieved in the worst-hit areas, Blair told legislators that the pace of killing had increased dramatically. More than a million animals have been condemned so far.

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