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Australia ready to roll out equine flu vaccine

September 24, 2007

The first shipment of Australia's equine flu vaccine will barely touch the tarmac before being whisked off for use in the battle against the disease.

The first 20,000 doses are due in Australia from France on Thursday.

A top-level conference call last night decided the distribution of the vaccine.

The majority will be rolled out in New South Wales and Queensland, but some will go to flu-free Victoria to inoculate about 1500 horses scheduled to take part in the Melbourne spring carnival.

This would ensure the carnival would go ahead in six weeks, even if the disease continued its spread.

The initial order of the live attenuated vaccine is for 50,000 doses, with only the first part of that shipment arriving on Thursday. The remainder will arrive the following week.

In further news, another 100,000 doses will be ordered. New South Wales Agriculture Minister Ian Macdonald confirmed an order for that number would be placed today.

The fundamental plan is to inoculate racehorses, thoroughbred broodmares and horses that compete at a high level in equestrian pursuits.

The majority of vaccine in NSW and Queensland will be used in buffer zones around containment areas, as well as thoroughbreds at Rosehill, along the Central Coast and in Newcastle. Rosehill, with 350 horses, is the last key Sydney racing centre to remain free of the virus, with the disease detected in two horses at Warwick farm late last week.

Other areas will be discussed with NSW racing authorities.

Horses that receive the vaccine will be microchipped, so they can be traced. A booster shot is needed two weeks after the initial injection, by which time immunity should be have developed.

Authorities say they remain committed to containing and eradicating the disease, but have not ruled out a wider vaccination programme if containment is shown not to be working.

Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran confirmed 1500 doses of the vaccine will be used on Spring Carnival horses in Victoria, with 18,500 being used in New South Wales and Queensland.

Vaccination can commence in the buffer zones, as part of the containment strategy, and also high-value horses such as stallions in the breeding areas, he said.

He said scientist only identified the strain of equine influenza a few days ago.

The vaccine is a genetically modified organism and consequently the approval from the Office of Gene Technology Regulator was needed, he said.

The application was processed in record time and he did not believe it could have been done any quicker.



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