DA-BAI runs first ASF vaccine trials 

The Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) has started initial vaccine trials in areas in the country previously affected by the dreaded African swine fever (ASF).

Agriculture Secretary William Dar on late Wednesday said ASF vaccine trials started on April 23, 2021 with 10 commercial swine farms participating.

“The vaccine trials complement our ongoing ‘Bantay ASF sa Barangay’ program. We consider it as the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that would free us from this dark episode that adversely affected our swine industry, and pork supply and prices,” Dar said.

“Once proven effective, the ASF vaccine will serve as a potent tool, complementing our joint efforts with the LGUs (local government units), private sector and hog raisers to effectively control, contain and manage the spread of the ASF, thus paving way for the industry’s faster recovery,” he added.

The DA chief said the ASF vaccine trials will be conducted and monitored by BAI personnel and veterinarians for 84 days, in line with the current protocols set by the government technical working group, the vaccine manufacturer and Zoetis Philippines, Inc.

Zoetis is the major collaborator of the experimental new ASF vaccine, which has prevented the virus from killing pigs in early trials in other countries.

“We are now coordinating with the provincial veterinarians on the conduct of the vaccine trials to ensure successful implementation. Likewise, our BAI veterinarians have already undergone orientation and are ready for deployment,” Dar said.

“The trials in the respective farms will depend on the agreement by the concerned parties, the availability of trial animals, schedule of the farm and BAI veterinarian and Zoetis representatives,” the Agriculture chief added.

Dar expressed optimism that the vaccine trials will yield positive results to finally put an end to the ASF virus that hardly hit the Philippines hog industry. The presence of the said virus has since the caused loss of livelihood and incomes to backyard and commercial raisers, substantially reduced hog population and supply, and pushed pork prices to unprecedented levels, to the detriment of consumers.

The DA confirmed that the first ASF outbreak started in July 2019. ASF outbreaks have been reported in Luzon, Mindanao and Leyte islands, resulting to drastic decline in the local swine production.

According to BAI, ASF cases in the country peaked to 1,773 in August 2020. The outbreaks of ASF continued until it reached only 62 cases as of March 2021.

ASF is a highly contagious hemorrhagic disease of domestic and wild pigs of all ages, according to the World Organization for Animal Health, also known as OIE. There are no effective preventive vaccines or cures, and the mortality rate is as high as 100 percent.