October 13, 2013
Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has welcomed the national availability of a new vaccine to protect horses and humans from contracting the deadly Hendra virus. But the Minister declined an opportunity to ride a horse named First Kiss during a photo opportunity at a media launch at Parliament House in Canberra yesterday, where the vaccine’s uptake was strongly encouraged. The vaccine was described as a “major breakthrough” in breaking the cycle of the disease being transferred from bats, to horses and then to humans working with or around horses. The Federal government contributed $3 million in seed funding towards developing the vaccine in partnership with the CSIRO’s animal health experts and pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The vaccine is expected to cost from $130 to $220 per dose. Minister Ludwig said the vaccine was immediately available and would help curb the widespread risk of Hendra virus to horses and in particular protect animal handlers. “The fundamental breakthrough here is that we do have a vaccine now,” he said. “Before this there was no vaccine so people were at risk and veterinarians were at significant risk of dealing with horses or sick horses during the period where there may be Hendra virus around.” The vaccine was initially released three weeks ago into higher risk areas in QLD and NSW but uptake is also being encouraged nationally, due to widespread presence of the disease. Minister Ludwig said any future marketing of the vaccine was a commercial opportunity for Pfizer to pursue. He was joined at the launch by Australian Veterinary Association President Dr Ben Gardiner who also talked up the vaccine’s availability and the enormity of the breakthrough. Dr Gardiner said the Hendra virus first arrived two decades ago but there was now an opportunity to break the cycle of its spread throughout Australia. “It took quite a while to actually decide what was causing that problem many years ago so it was a world first to actually diagnose Hendra virus,” he said.