Up to 240,000 horses in Australia could be vaccinated by early next year, the National Management Group overseeing the fight to contain equine flu has revealed.
That number represents more than a quarter of all domesticated horses in Australia.
NMG said in a communique that eradication remains the focus of efforts.
"Mindful of the high costs of the equine influenza response on horse owners," the group said, "NMG has moved to ease the burden by broadening the use of vaccination to more aggressively contain and eradicate the disease and free up movement controls in certain zones.
"Further strategic vaccination of horses will be undertaken with up to 240,000 horses expected to be vaccinated by early 2008. An allocation and distribution schedule is being developed based on business cases and ongoing provision and refinement of data from industry.
"Guidelines have been released for this purpose and national horse sectors have been invited to lodge business cases for vaccine allocations."
Proposals, it said, would need to be consistent with nationally agreed objectives for vaccination and include targeted surveillance, identification, tracing, auditing and on-going biosecurity arrangements.
Business cases will need to include evidence about:
- The vaccine's proposed use within an identifiable sector of horses;
- Details there is an accountable organisation responsible for all aspects of vaccine holding and use that can audit, identify and track all vaccinated horses;
- The accountable organisation's rules, authority and capability to control the activity of horses and people, the application of penalties and sanctions, and the system to trace horses and people moving to and from events or training locations;
- The biosecurity measures to be applied on the movement of horses and people within each location to prevent the potential exposure of other horses to the virus.
The group said it was keeping a constant check on both the direct and indirect costs of containment and eradication efforts, and identified that future priorities to assist the industry included:
- Progressively moving restriction zones from red to purple to allow the greater movement of horses;
- Authorisation for horse gatherings;
- The vaccination of high-risk horses within infected jurisdictions and strategic vaccination in non infected jurisdictions;
- Development of protocols and timelines with industry to restore normal business;
- Maintaining layered barriers to control disease spread using zones and state barriers.
NMG comprises the chief executive officers of the departments of agriculture/primary industries across Australia and also the heads of the peak bodies representing the horse industry.
It is chaired by the Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Dr Conall O'Connell.