‘No need to panic’ over horse vaccine shortage

Farmers in Gauteng and around Lesotho have reason to be wary, as the highly infectious disease kills about 90% of unvaccinated horses within three days, according to a veterinarian

Horses communicate non-verbally, says Dr Gail Venecourt, a horse specialist at Earth Soul Connection, who makes a living from the connection between the beautiful animals and human beings. Photo: Lucia Macedo/Unsplash

Onderstepoort Biological Products says it is aware of concerns about a vaccine shortage, and contingency plans are in place. Photo: Lucia Macedo/Unsplash

Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) is rushing to meet its own deadline of having African horse sickness (AHS) vaccines back on Mzansi’s shelves by December. This follows a nationwide outcry by horse owners and breeders on the sudden unavailability of the horse vaccine.  

African horse sickness is an infectious and deadly disease of horses in sub-Saharan Africa. It is spread by infected insects (biting midges) and causes fever and heart and breathing problems in affected animals.  

OBP, which is an entity of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, reported that it was experiencing an interruption in the production of certain products, including the AHS vaccine.  

According to OBP communications officer Zipho Linda, repairs, augmentation and replacement of equipment is currently underway. “In this regard, scheduled short-term repairs and maintenance are ongoing. The breakdown in some of our equipment has resulted in an interruption in the production of certain products, including the African horse sickness vaccine.”  

Saying that they are aware of the growing concerns relating to the current shortage and unavailability of the (AHS) vaccine, Linda cautions that there is no need for horse breeders and owners to panic.  

Disease is severe for unvaccinated animals

Dr Gary Buhrmann from the Western Cape department of agriculture, in the veterinary department, says concerns by horse breeders and owners in Gauteng and Lesotho are valid.  

“For those who are upcountry, such as in Gauteng and around Lesotho, the incidence of horse sickness is fairly high. If the horse is not vaccinated, the disease can be severe and 90% of horses die within two to three days.”

If horses are vaccinated in time, they are most likely to survive, Buhrmann adds.  

“The vaccine that Onderstepoort Biological Products makes is very effective. It is rather unfortunate that there’s a shortage.”  

Western Cape state veterinarian Dr Gary Buhrmann. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Certain parts of the Western Cape have been legislated as AHS-controlled areas in terms of the Animal Diseases Act 1984 (Act no. 35 of 84) and these areas are generally free from AHS.

Meanwhile Kristy Kolberg, a horse owner in the Garden Route, Western Cape, agrees that the shortage is unfortunate. Fortunately, she has already vaccinated her horses for the current cycle.

“The sickness is not really prevalent in our region. However, horses can still contract it, which may lead to serious sickness. We hope the shortage issue can be addressed as we don’t want to imagine what could happen if the issue is not dealt with,” Kolberg says.

Horses are usually vaccinated between August and September each year. The vaccination for AHS involves two injections, three weeks apart and both vaccines are essential in order for horses to be protected.

Furthermore, while AHS can be very severe when a horse is infected with it, the disease does not spread to humans or other animals except zebras mules, and donkeys.  

According to Buhrmann, “Zebras are completely resistant, and mules and donkeys also have a level of resistance, although we do recommend vaccinating them.”

ALSO READ: African horse sickness strikes Western Cape farm

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