‘It won’t work if it stays on the shelf’: vets report ‘limited uptake’ of new strangles vaccine

  • Owners are being encouraged to take advantage of the new strangles vaccine as part of a multi-factor approach to combating the disease.

    The long-awaited vaccine launched in the UK last autumn, having been in development for more than 25 years. It reduces the clinical signs of the infection, including high temperature and coughing, and can reduce the number of lymph node abscesses. Trials demonstrated it can protect “more than 94% of horses”, but despite the benefits, vets have reported a limited uptake of the vaccine.

    Edd Knowles of Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic told H&H the vaccine is an “exciting addition” to the strategies to combat strangles.

    “There is no single ‘magic bullet’ to prevent strangles and currently we often see an over-reliance on blood testing to prevent the condition,” said Dr Knowles. “When combined with other biosecurity measures, vaccination should reduce the impact of strangles on our horses.”

    Bell Equine vet Karen Coumbe added that she is “looking forward” to when the vaccine is in regular use. “Especially in stable yards, where young horses move in and out frequently, so are at a higher risk of disease. As of yet, there has been limited vaccine uptake, considering how much of a worry strangles can be for many owners and the economic damage it causes, as well as actual harm it can cause to horses,” she said.

    Mark Bowen, member of the British Equine Veterinary Association’s (BEVA) health and medicines committee, told H&H BEVA “understands the reticence” of owners in considering another vaccine for their horses.

    “We have seen strangles vaccines brought to market previously that were difficult to administer, and were beset by supply chain issues that made ongoing protection impossible. What sets this vaccine apart from others globally is the science that has gone into its creation using techniques similar to the Covid vaccines, to produce immunity to targeted proteins in the strangles bacteria,” he said.

    “This should prevent production issues, and enables it to be given by intramuscular injection, rather than into the lip. This gives a very high level of protection while being much safer and easy to use than other vaccines and does not interfere with the current blood tests.”

    Mr Bowen added that although strangles is “rarely fatal”, it is highly contagious and spreads throughout yards quickly.

    “Although most horses recover completely, the costs associated with confirming freedom from disease following an outbreak are very high,” he said. “There are many challenges with relying on single blood tests to screen for carriers for new arrivals on a yard, and a program of vaccination would be a more effective way to protect a population of horses that are mixing at home and at competitions. We would encourage owners and yard managers to discuss such programs with their veterinary surgeon.”

    Redwings, one of the co-organisers of Strangles Awareness Week (3–9 May), also supports the use of the vaccine.

    “Although it is still new on the market, we have confidence that it has been carefully researched and tested and was shown to be very effective,” said Nic de Brauwere, Redwings head of welfare.

    “More time is needed to get an accurate picture of how well the vaccine performs in the many different situations horses face, but for the vaccine to give any protection it needs to be used. It certainly won’t work if it stays on the shelf.”

    Mr de Brauwere added the vaccine is an “essential part of a biosecurity toolkit” alongside temperature checking, hygiene and testing protocols.

    “It is a great new tool to fight this disease, and minimise its devastating impact on horses, owners and premises,” he said.

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